by Brian Leubitz
With the new term limits structure amendments of a few years ago, Sacramento is seeing a lot of change. Lots and lots and lots of change. In the Legislature convening today, 72 of the 120 legislators have less than two years of experience at the state level. That’s a staggeringly high number, and rather frightening for the institutional memory of both chambers. If you look at the new leadership team in the Assembly, you’ll find freshmen legislators David Chiu, Evan Low (Both pictured to the right), Jim Cooper and Miguel Santiago all in prominent positions.
“When the voters approved term limits they voted to limit the amount of experience the Legislature had,” said former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles. “Institutional memory is found outside of the building and the staff, which is not the best thing for democracy.”
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In the past, new members looked to their veteran colleagues to ease an initiation process that Kathy Dresslar, who was chief of staff to former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, likened to a “drink from the fire hose.” As term limits force those more seasoned members from the Legislature, Dresslar said, newer members are increasingly taking their cues from staff or from lobbyists.
“The new legislators today are still learning from the former members, but the former members are more likely to be lobbyists here in town,” Dresslar said. “So that perspective is passed down from the former members’ clients.” (SacBee)
Not to say that there aren’t great staff in the Legislature, but they weren’t elected to anything. And certainly the lobbyists that are crawling all over Sacramento were never elected. And for the next few years, staff and lobbyists will have an outsized role in governance.
But, all that being said, we have the opportunity for something of a “Pax Sacramento” where a Legislature will, for the most part, remain consistent for the better part of a decade. The new term limits allow for twelve year terms in either chamber, and those 72 members will be joined by another big class in 2016. After that, the changes will dwindle to a trickle for the better part of a decade. Now, that isn’t to say that all will go swimmingly, but the merry go-round will certainly decrease. I tend to be a bit skeptical that stability alone can create real change.
But with strong Democratic majorities for the foreseeable future, one could hold out hope for a functional Legislature.