Yes on term-limits reform

It’s not easy to recommend a “yes” vote on Proposition 93, the term-limits-reform initiative on the Feb. 5 ballot. Everything about the measure stinks—except the measure itself. Our advice: Hold your nose and vote for it.

Some history: The initiative was originally part of a deal between Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger wanted an early presidential primary to enhance California’s—and, in the bargain, his own—clout on national issues. He also wanted to put a redistricting measure on the ballot. Núñez and Perata, who both will otherwise be termed out at the end of 2008, wanted an initiative that would enable them to keep their jobs.

Schwarzenegger got one of his wishes—the additional election on Feb. 5—and the legislative leaders, both Democrats, got theirs in Prop. 93. However, in a cynical move to keep the gerrymandered districting that guarantees a Democratic majority in the Legislature, they didn’t deliver on their promise to put a redistricting measure on the ballot. (Schwarzenegger now is leading an effort to qualify one for the November ballot.)

The current term-limits law, passed by initiative in 1990, allows Assembly members three terms, for a total of six years, and senators two terms, for a total of eight years. Almost invariably, however, lawmakers termed out of one house run for an open seat in the other, and those winners end up serving 14 years altogether.

Prop. 93 would allow them to serve a total of 12 years in one house, effectively shortening their careers by two years. More important, it would allow sufficient time for leaders to emerge and function effectively in both houses. Six years is not long enough both to prepare an effective leader and give him or her the opportunity to accomplish things. Indeed, the current term limits are a direct cause of the kind of dysfunction that now characterizes the Legislature.

Yes, if voters approve Prop. 93, Núñez and Perata will stay in office longer. Given the way this initiative was developed, they don’t deserve it. But in the long run, the public will be better served if the measure passes.