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On The Issue

Should There Be Term Limits on State Office?


Last month, a federal judge in Oakland struck down California's term limits law, concluding it violates the voters' right to select a candidate of their choice. Since Proposition 140 passed in 1990, constitutional questions have surrounded it.

Although the ruling has no immediate impact, the timing of an appeal could determine if some incumbents could be eligible to run in 1998. However, the judge's ruling has no impact on candidates who have already lost their seats because of term limits.

Still, the decision reawakened a debate on the power of incumbency, whether term limits are constitutional and if legislators who have served their terms should be banned from their former seats for life.

Should there be term limits for state offices?

Richard Katz, former state assemblyman:

"I thought we always had term limits. Every two years in the Assembly your term was up and the voters decided whether you would continue. I think creating an artificial limit denies people the opportunity to vote for who they want to. . . . When I run for state Senate next year, I'm going to benefit from term limits, but I think it still limits the voters' ability to say, 'Yes, I want this person in office.' . . . I really believe that if voters want to be able to vote for an incumbent, they should not be second-guessed by voters in a different part of the state who want to vote someone else out."

San Fernando Mayor Raul Godinez II:

"Incumbent candidates have a fund-raising advantage. People are more likely to donate to an incumbent because they figure that is the person who is going to win. . . . [But] I think the solution to the whole thing is to have publicly financed campaigns . . . [where] if you collect so many signatures, you are eligible for the same amount of money. It's going to be really hard to convince voters to pay for a campaign, but you're paying for it one way or the other. . . . I know what [term limit] supporters are trying to do . . . but it's a double-edged sword."

Deborah La Fetra, attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit law firm that has argued for term limits in court:

"Yes . . . reform was needed for the state. . . . [As to it being unconstitutional] that's simply an uninformed interpretation of the law. . . . No one has ever had the right to vote for a particular person for a particular office. That's why you can't vote for candidates outside of your district, or who are too young. We have qualifications for office and a lack of extensive incumbency is one of those qualifications."

Craig Holman, project director, Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles:

"Term limits are neither new nor revolutionary. In fact, the concept that representatives should refrain from viewing public office as a career goal is as old as the founding of this nation. Service in public office used to be considered an important chore for the purpose of achieving policy objectives, not as a profession in and of itself. . . . Since today's politicians have forsaken America's tradition of term limits, it is appropriate to limit officeholder terms by law."

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