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Running for Office Is Still No Citizen's Game

November 18, 1990|WALTER A. ZELMAN | Walter A. Zelman writes about California politics and ran in the Democratic primary for the post of insurance commissioner

The proponents of Proposition 140 promised that it would reduce the domination of electoral and legislative politics by career-oriented, professional politicians.

In fact, we are likely to get the opposite result. Professionals will still dominate the political scene, and because their careers will be forced to move faster or die, their obsession with attaining higher rungs on the electoral ladder will only intensify.

The notion of high-minded, respected citizens being "drafted" for public office is largely mythical and always has been. Running for office--successfully at least--generally requires years of devotion and a near-limitless drive to succeed. Would-be candidates spend years building political contacts, fund-raising bases among special interests and the wealthy, and the name identification required to win--often on the second or third try.

Those who have the psychological drive to attain elective office are not likely to be deterred by a six- or eight-year limit on a specific post. They will hope and even expect to have moved up the political ladder in that time. Once in office, most legislators will be forced to think more aggressively about their next electoral move.

To the extent, then, that elected officials in the new age still aspire to a career in politics, the imposition of stiff term limits will leave more of them more concerned than ever about personal career needs. The dominance of politics over policy and of professionals over citizen-politicians will remain.

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