You Didn’t Think Term Limits Actually Led to Citizen Legislators, Did You?

A new report shows legislators just move over, not out.

by Brian Leubitz

A new report by the Center for Governmental Studies shows that state legislators don’t really leave Sacramento after their terms are up, as Prop 140 envisioned:

“Let’s restore that form of government envisioned by our Founding Fathers,” proponents wrote. “A government of citizens representing their fellow citizens.”

The CGS study, admittedly only a snapshot of the post-Prop 140 world in Sacramento, compared the landing spots for the men and women termed out of office in 2008 to the careers of ex-legislators in the decade between 1980-1990.

In the Assembly, 60% of the 2008 departed remained in the public sector through either appointed or elected positions… the exact same percentage as did so in the 1980s. In the Senate, 30% of ex-members stayed in public service a generation ago; in 2008, it was actually a little higher at 40%. And in both instances, the ex-pols of the 1980s seemed to return to the private sector at a higher rate than those of today.

Exactly what accounts for all of that isn’t clear, and the CGS study doesn’t pretend to have the answers. But it does offer an opinion about one of the essential promises of legislative term limits:

These findings suggest that California’s term limits have not created an environment in which citizen legislators temporarily serve in the state Capitol and then return to the private sector. Rather, it suggests that professional legislators pre and post term limits continued to seek careers in other governmental positions — a form of political musical chairs for governmental office.

CGS goes on to argue in their report (PDF) that term limits need reform, specifically the change from 14 to 12 years but allowing members to serve the entire time in one chamber.

That recommendation is basically the initiative that will be on the ballot during the next election that was sponsored by the LA Labor Fed. The big difference between this measure and Prop 93 of 2008 is that current legislators aren’t exempted.

But CGS also makes one more interesting recommendation: members can come back from their term limits ban after waiting a suitable time.  This could make for some interesting races involving unretired legislators against their former chosen successors.  Could make for some interesting political theater anyway, but that would require an additional ballot measure.

Given the state’s record since Prop 140, it is really hard to defend term limits in any meaningful way, but this additional data adds some fuel to the fire.

13 thoughts on “You Didn’t Think Term Limits Actually Led to Citizen Legislators, Did You?”

  1. Cause unless one has money or is Well known and respected or all of those, Forget it. My Grandpa was a Police Chief of Culver City CA around 1923 and later a City Councilman of Culver City too, the reason He was Police Chief is that My Family owned a Garage(Wrongly labeled as Earl Bobier’s Garage that worked on peoples cars and trucks, My Uncle Joe whom I never met was a Fire Chief I was told(by My now deceased Brother), Uncle Joe passed away before I was born, So I never met Him. Grandpa also owned a Bicycle Shop in nearby Palms and I’m told that It still exists today. Yes I’ve contacted those who are responsible for the website, It may be changed eventually…

    Oh and that’s a real dirt street there too.

  2. they should have a random citizen lottery every two years, and draft ’em outright.

  3. The real result of term limits is that it puts the real power in the hands of lobbyists and legislative staff. They are the only ones who are around long enough to have real knowledge about issues and how the system works. In the meantime, legislators who have just learned where the restrooms are in the Capitol are already gearing up to run for other offices.

  4. Term limits was a Huge mistake

    People get the government they want or

    (if they don’t pay attention) the government they deserve

    I think Term Limits was originally aimed at Willie Brown (D-SF)

    Republicans couldn’t stand him and he managed to stay in power even when the Goopers had a majority

    What are the chances of eliminating term limits ?

    Probably slim

  5. The current limits are overly restrictive, and on all too many issues a legislator is just hitting his or her stride when she’s termed out.  He has to come into office an expert on the issue, hire a top-notch staff, get the right committee assignments, not annoy the leadership, and then — maybe — he might get one or two big things done during the entire stay in Sacramento.

    On the other hand, we’ve seen at every level elected officials stay entirely too long because they scare off credible challengers.  Unless and until there are other ways of getting such incumbents out, perhaps a limit such as 8 or 12 years in either house, broken by at least one term before she can be elected in that chamber again.

    Mind you, I prefer no limits at all, but for every Ted Kennedy there’s a Daniel Akaka.

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