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Old Faces, New Places

The influence of term limits rolls through L.A.'s municipal ballot as job hoppers look for a perch.

February 11, 2001

Term limits were supposed to usher fresh faces and new ideas into California's Capitol and city halls. That was the promise when voters approved the limits for state officials in 1990 and for city of Los Angeles officeholders in 1993. Lawmakers who had turned elected offices into perpetual sinecures would be forced out and eager citizen-politicians, unbeholden to the special interests, would step in. Well, it's a decade later and the faces are more recycled than fresh.

Witness the Los Angeles municipal elections that will take place April 10. Mayor Richard Riordan has hit his two-term limit. Four of the six leading mayoral candidates are being forced out of other offices and are looking for a soft landing in City Hall. Kathleen Connell cannot run again for state controller, City Atty. James K. Hahn and Councilman Joel Wachs have hit city term ceilings, and Antonio Villaraigosa maxed out in the state Assembly.

The influence of term limits rolls through the municipal ballot. Termed-out Councilman Mike Feuer and Rocky Delgadillo, a Riordan deputy mayor soon to be unemployed like his boss, are vying to be city attorney. Council member Laura Chick is running for controller.

Other termed-out politicos are vying for City Council seats whose current occupants are also termed out. Tom Hayden, whose 18 years in the Assembly and Senate are up, and state Sen. Richard Polanco are trying to parlay their Sacramento expertise into an advantage, arguing that they know how to fight for Los Angeles' fair share of state money.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 17, 2001 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 9 Editorial Writers Desk 2 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Term limits--An editorial Sunday incorrectly said Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer is approaching the two-term limit for city officials. Feuer won a midterm special election to the council in 1995 and won his first full term in 1997. He is allowed a second full term.

In the past, local politicians often moved up the ladder to Sacramento and on to Washington; now they arc back to City Hall as well. It's a safe bet that this electoral whirl is not what most voters thought they'd get. The professional politicians stay in motion but stay on the public payroll, and when new faces do appear they often come to view public service and its attendant perks as a career rather than an interlude in a career.

The pattern is not new. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and Mike Antonovich, after stints in Congress and the Legislature, respectively, landed on the county Board of Supervisors, which, with no term limits, is the jackpot for local career pols.

Theoretically, there is an upside to all this churning in that the city could benefit from a politician's previous experience. Meanwhile, the pool gets shallower in Sacramento. In the mid-1990s the Legislature had its first big term limits-induced exodus. By last year, there had been a complete turnover in the state Senate. The learning curve is now steep on such urgent issues as electricity deregulation, especially for the freshman Assembly members--a third of that house--who are still finding their way to the restroom. In this void, the Assembly speaker and the Senate president pro tem are wielding more power than ever--along with the special-interest lobbyists, permanent players with ample access to expertise and cash.

Ten years after voters approved Proposition 140, the consequences of term limits are still playing out. How much better it would have been to enact campaign finance reform; it was mostly fiscal inequality that kept out new faces. But because incumbent politicians declined to handicap themselves with real reforms, they--and voters--now live instead with a merry-go-round.

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