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Jackson, Strickland End Terms

State law forces the local lawmakers, part of the Assembly Class of '98, to return to private life. Neither has ruled out a return to politics.

August 29, 2004|Daryl Kelley | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — As Hannah-Beth Jackson, a liberal Democrat, and Tony Strickland, a conservative Republican, ended their days of lawmaking last week, they finally agreed on something: They don't like term limits.

They're getting better at the job every day, they said. But now it is time for the Assembly Class of 1998 to pack up and ship out.

That's because voters in 1990 limited the time anyone can spend in the Legislature's lower house to six years.

"Term limits are terrible," said Jackson, 54, a Santa Barbara lawyer whose district includes part of Ventura County.

"We're running the sixth-largest economy in the world, and the issues are enormously complex," she said. "But we're here for only six years. What kind of institutional memory can there be? What kind of long-term planning can we have? So lobbyists run the show."

Like Jackson, Strickland said a 12-year limit would make more sense.

"Six years is a short amount of time," said Strickland, 34, a former legislative aide from Moorpark, who turned over his chairmanship of the Assembly Republican Caucus in January because he was a lame duck. "It just goes by so fast. And some reforms take time."

Even on term limits, however, Jackson and Strickland have differences: Jackson would change the system in a heartbeat. Strickland wouldn't, unless polls showed voters concurred.

Then again, these two political bookends have disagreed so often on so many things over the years that they represent the yin and the yang of Ventura County politics -- its environmental heart versus its conservative soul.

"Tony and I have a very pleasant relationship," Jackson said. "We talk sports a lot, and we disagree on just about everything else."

At 6 feet, 5 inches, Strickland was a college basketball star, while the diminutive Jackson was a New England junior tennis champion. But even on that level, there is amiable conflict.

Two weeks ago, Strickland's Republicans beat Jackson's Democrats in the annual legislative softball game, and shortstop Strickland's diving catch of Jackson's line drive was a key play.

"He robbed me," Jackson said, grinning.

"I hit a home run, and turned a few double plays," Strickland said with a laugh. "I was the MVP."

Both Strickland and Jackson -- if not the MVPs of their parties in the Assembly -- were certainly memorable participants, holding key leadership positions and shining brightly when the political stars aligned for them.

While championing women's issues, school safety and the environment, Jackson chaired the 36-member Legislative Women's Caucus and led the Assembly's environmental and coastal caucuses. She served on the state Coastal Conservancy and Wildlife Conservation Board, powerful boards that helped spend billions of dollars in bond money in recent years.

Environmental and social service groups regularly named her Legislator of the Year.

"I think Beth was one of the best-qualified freshmen I'd ever seen," said state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica). "People did give her a hard time [because of her aggressive style], but she stuck to her guns."

Strickland, a leader in the Assembly's Republican minority, made a name for himself as a thorn in the side of former Gov. Gray Davis, even suing Davis to force the release of energy contracts during the power crisis. And he helped block tax increases even when the state faced a $38-billion revenue shortfall in 2003.

California's conservative Young Republicans honored him with special awards.

"He was a strong leader in the minority party," said Herb Wesson of Los Angeles, the top-ranking Democrat in the Assembly during the two years Strickland headed the Republican Caucus. "We did pass some Republican bills. And he tried to unify his caucus. I like him. He's my friend."

A contrast in style and perspectives, Jackson and Strickland stood out in their Assembly class from the first day.

Strickland was a head taller than his colleagues and, at 28, the youngest member of the Assembly. He remains the youngest Republican. And with an easy friendliness, he hugged Democrats and Republicans alike. Almost immediately he was named to his party's leadership circle.

Jackson was striking because of her cool, precise demeanor, nailing every word like a tennis serve. Democratic colleagues anointed her the first in her class to preside over the Assembly just six months after being elected.

During their six years, Jackson and Strickland took very different paths. She focused on policy, he on politics.

Always a member of the majority, she was among the Assembly leaders in bills passed into law. He sought leverage not through lawmaking, but in budget and tax measures that required a two-thirds vote, since Democrats never reached that super-majority.

In the end, colleagues said, both were effective, sometimes prompting caustic comment by rivals.

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