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Man Who Led Gray Davis Recall Sets Sights on Initiative for a Part-Time Legislature

August 05, 2004|Gabrielle Banks | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The man who led the charge to recall Gov. Gray Davis announced Wednesday that he has begun collecting signatures for an initiative to create a part-time Legislature in California.

Anti-tax advocate Ted Costa's proposal would shrink the legislative session, which runs year-round, to a 90-day session.

Costa called it a cost-saving measure, but said his goal is for lawmakers to spend more time in their districts and cut back on the time they "rub elbows with the special interests" in Sacramento.

To qualify for the next election, in March 2006, Costa's petition drive would need to present about 600,000 signatures of registered voters to the secretary of state.

Independent of Costas, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he would call for a special election to let voters decide whether the Legislature should be part time.

Schwarzenegger's popularity drew attention to the idea, and as opponent Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland) said, "Ted Costa jumped up and said, 'I'll lead that parade.' "

To finance a statewide petition drive, Costa would need financial backing, said Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley.

"He's going to need a sugar daddy, and the question is, will somebody come forward?" Cain said. During the drive to recall Davis, Costa received financial support from U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), a wealthy car-alarm maker.

Assembly Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said his fellow lawmakers introduce too many bills, do not spend enough time on policy and that he would be "willing to restructure Sacramento and put California first."

The Legislature was part time for 116 years, but voters converted it to full time in 1966.

Trimming back the legislative branch, with Democratic majorities now in both houses, would shift more power to the executive branch and to Republicans, policy experts say.

"It's an attractive, populist proposal that does not get to the roots of the governance problems in California," said Elizabeth Garrett, a policy expert at USC.

"What you're asking is for people to govern the sixth-largest economy in the world in a part-time manner. It doesn't solve problems, it exacerbates them."

Perata said it's clear why citizens might want this type of change: "People don't like us. They don't like this institution. We're down there with used-car salesmen."

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