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EDITORIALS: THE SATURDAY PAGE | THE FAMILY BUSINESS

All politics is familial

April 08, 2006

WHAT'S A MEMBER OF THE state Assembly to do when term limits loom? Give up and go home? Come on, now. Be reasonable. Keep the business in the family.

That's what Ed Chavez is trying to do in the June 6 primary. The Democrat from La Puente has to give up his seat this year, but he is hoping to use the power of incumbency to turn the district over to his wife, candidate Renee Chavez. In Huntington Beach, Republican Tom Harman is being termed out of the Assembly and is running for the state Senate, but that doesn't mean he's forfeiting his current office; he's hoping voters will elect his wife, Dianne Harman.

The couples are trying to follow the example set by the Runners of Antelope Valley in 2002, when husband George, termed out of the Assembly, turned over his seat (courtesy of the voters, of course) to his wife, Sharon, later winning a state Senate seat for himself. And don't forget the Strickland family. The transfer of their Westlake Village-based seat to Audra from Tony, who is running for state controller, was seamless. In the Bay Area, Laura Canciamilla is campaigning for the chance to move into the Sacramento office being vacated by her termed-out husband, Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla. It's as if elected office were community property.

But surely not every member of the Assembly is trying to turn a public trust into a family business. Judy Chu, after all, is leaving her San Gabriel Valley-based seat to make a run for the State Board of Equalization, and there's no one named Chu trying to take her place. No, wait. That's Chu's husband, Mike Eng, running to succeed her.

This can't be what voters had in mind with term limits. There's little use in shooing officials out of Sacramento if they end up turning their offices into family heirlooms. The Legislature is in danger of becoming as much a family business as is the presidency of North Korea or Syria. Or the United States, come to think of it.

And it's not all about marital bliss. Just ask Joe Baca Jr. of Rialto, whose sense of loss over being termed out of his Assembly seat surely is assuaged not just by his own bid for the state Senate, but by his knowledge that his brother, Jeremy, is planning to keep order in the old homestead. Their dad, by the way, is Rep. Joe Baca (D-Rialto).

But the Bacas have nothing on the Calderon brothers, who share state office like teenagers share the family car on alternate Saturdays. Charles is the latest to make a bid for the Assembly, hoping to get the office from his brother Ron, who got it from their brother Tom, who took the seat Charles held throughout the 1980s.

So what was the point of term limits again?

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