Tag Archives: Term limits

Adam Nagourney is a terrible, agenda-driven journalist

Adam Nagourney is already famous as the New York Times journalist always eager to write “Democrats in disarray” stories. But of all of the slanted stories he has written over the years, this one about California has to be the worst.

Nagourney looked at California’s resurgent economy and drama-free politics after the 2012 elections gave Democrats a 2/3 supermajority in all houses and put Democrats into every statewide seat, and decided that the reason for it was–wait for it–centrist reforms. No, really:

Adam Nagourney is already famous as the New York Times journalist always eager to write “Democrats in disarray” stories. But of all of the slanted stories he has written over the years, this one about California has to be the worst.

Nagourney looked at California’s resurgent economy and drama-free politics after the 2012 elections gave Democrats a 2/3 supermajority in all houses and put Democrats into every statewide seat, and decided that the reason for it was–wait for it–centrist reforms. No, really:

Lawmakers came into office this year representing districts whose lines were drawn by a nonpartisan commission, rather than under the more calculating eye of political leaders. This is the first Legislature chosen under an election system where the top two finishers in a nonpartisan primary run against each other, regardless of party affiliations, an effort to prod candidates to appeal to a wider ideological swath of the electorate.

As any honest observer of California politics will tell you, the non-partisan citizens redistricting commission didn’t result in more moderate legislators. It resulted in more Democrats and less safe Republican seats. Prior to the non-partisan redistricting, institutional Democratic power in the state drew lines to maximize the safety of incumbent legislators, not to maximize the number of winnable seats for Democrats in overwhelmingly Democratic California. When the lines were redrawn to reflect real communities of interest, many Democratic lawmakers in deep blue areas found themselves displaced from their comfortable territories, while many bluish purple areas found themselves realistically able to elect a Democrat for the first time in recent memory. Safe Republican seats also became significantly less safe. More Democrats in office meant crashing through the 2/3 supermajority barrier. It wasn’t centrism that led to a better politics in California, but the utter marginalization of Republicans.

As for the awful top-two system? There is no evidence whatsoever that it has decreased partisanship. In deep blue and deep red areas, it has meant a personality-driven, primary circus atmosphere all the way into November featuring Republican-on-Republican and Democrat-on-Democrat races where party bosses and big money have enormous sway. In a few rare cases it has led to perverse situations: for instance, one Democratic district had a race with many Democrats running and only two Republicans, leading to both Republicans making it to the general election. In order to avoid this situation, party bosses now have even greater incentive to clear the field of challengers to the favored candidate. And in most purple battleground districts, races still came down to a normal Democrat vs. Republican battle–except this time, you can’t vote for a third party candidate at all. In 2006 if you were a progressive unhappy with Dianne Feinstein, you could cast your vote for the Green Party candidate. Not so in 2012: your only choices were Feinstein, the Republican, write-in, or leave it blank.

Of the many, many faults of the top-two primary system, injecting centrism into elections was not one of them.

Even worse, Nagourney tries to bring relaxed term limits into the picture as well:

And California voters approved last year an initiative to ease stringent term limits, which had produced a Statehouse filled with inexperienced legislators looking over the horizon to the next election. Lawmakers can now serve 12 years in either the Assembly or the Senate.

Yes, that’s true, and the relaxation of term limits is a positive development. But to say the passage of that initiative just last year has had a significant impact on legislative culture is ludicrous. It may and likely will have impacts down the road, but the new rules don’t apply to legislators already in office. Since the old term limit rules are a complicated mishmash that, to oversimplify matters, give Assemblymembers six years in office and State Senators eight years (they can hop to the other chamber for a short time afterward as well for a maximum of 12 years total), well under 1/4 of the current lawmakers are governed by the new, more relaxed term limits laws. Moreover, any laws to weaken term limits can hardly be called centrist: it is centrists who have been most influential in strengthening term limits laws, and partisan advocates who have been most vocal about relaxing them.

Meanwhile, these two paragraphs are exemplary of moebius-strip backward thinking:

The fact that these reforms are kicking in at the same time that Democrats enjoy ironclad control of the government makes it difficult to draw long-term conclusions about their effectiveness. Some critics of state governance argued that Democratic dominance and the fact that Mr. Brown has proved to be a moderating force on his party, vetoing certain bills on gun control and immigration, were as much driving factors.

“It’s sort of like the good government community and political elite are doing an end-zone dance at the 45-yard line,” said Joe Mathews, a longtime critic of California’s governance system. “We’ve been in this box for so long, there’s such a natural hunger to say things are doing better that things are going better.”

Let’s get this straight: Nagourney is crediting “good government reformers” for legislative successes that are due purely to Democratic partisan dominance. Then he cites “critics” who say that all this “reform” might be illusory because it may be jeopardized by Democratic dominance that has only been disguised by Jerry Brown’s moderate politics. That’s an incredible little tap dance there, particularly since most of the dysfunction that still remains in Sacramento is caused by Jerry Brown’s unfortunate insistence on austerity economics during a recession, and the fact that lawmakers and even the governor’s own staff have no idea what he will or will not do with his veto pen on any given day. Jerry Brown is a good governor all things considered, but elect a more predictable and reliably progressive governor in California, and the state will run even more smoothly than it does now.

Then there’s this head scratcher:

As Mr. Mathews noted, ballot initiatives continue to be a force for disruption in California governance – the most notable example being Proposition 13, which severely limited the ability of governments to raise taxes. Two years ago, voters rolled back the requirement that two-thirds of lawmakers approve any spending increase, removing a major impediment in Sacramento, but there remains a two-thirds requirement for raising taxes.

Did Nagourney forget that not only did voters erase the two-thirds restriction on the budget in order to give Democrats more functional control, but the two-thirds rule is essentially irrelevant because Democrats now have over 2/3 of both houses? Even if Nagourney wrongly chooses to see the relaxation of the 2/3 rule for budgets as some sort of victory for centrism rather than the victory of Democratic partisanship it is, how is it relevant?

This is golden, too:

J. Stephen Peace, a former Democratic legislator who is head of the Independent Voter Project, which pressed for the top-two voting system, said the very fact of Democratic dominance was actually evidence of how the reforms were changing the way business is done.

“Only with a top-two majority would you have an overwhelming Democratic Legislature which is also the most moderate Legislature in 30 years,” he said. “Look at the Chamber of Commerce job kills list – every measure on it was defeated except the increase in the minimum wage…”

There is reason to think that changes in legislative behavior might get more pronounced with turnover and as incumbent legislators who have not faced competitive elections before begin confronting a more competitive electoral landscape.

“We can already see that these reforms are improving the function of the Legislature and forcing people to come out of their partisan boxes and talk to the broader electorate,” said Sam Blakeslee, head of the California Reform Institute and a former Republican member of the Assembly. “We’re seeing, almost against the odds, a more centrist Legislature, at least when it comes to jobs and budget issues.”

Yes, I’m sure that Republican Sam Blakeslee would prefer to give credit for the state’s successes to “reforms” rather than to his own party’s being utterly relegated to the sidelines. And I’m sure the conservative “Democrat” who pushed the terrible top-two system on everyone while celebrating the positions of the Chamber of Commerce would be pleased to do likewise.

But that doesn’t make it true. The painfully obvious truth is that, as Calitics veteran Dave Dayen notes, California is succeeding because we threw obstructionist Republicans overboard and gave total control of the state’s executive and legislative apparatus to Democrats. Even Adam Nagourney must be able to see that.

But Nagourney has an agenda he clearly needs to push–journalistic standards be damned.

Cross-posted from Digby’s Hullabaloo

KQED’s Forum Looks at the State Props

In a ballot with few initiatives, these two get some statewide attention

by Brian Leubitz

There are just two measures on the statewide ballot, and KQED’s Forum took a look at both today. And while they are each controversial in their own way, they are both worthy efforts.  Prop 28 is a measure that would change the way term limits work from a total of 14 years (6 and 8 in the Assembly and Senate, respectively) to a total of 12 years in either house. In the first radio program, former FPPC chair Dan Schnur argues that reforming term limits will allow legislators to grow into their jobs, rather than being thrust into leadership right away. And in a very civil discussion, a vice chairman of the CA Republican Party disagreed and argued for the continuation of the current (broken) system.

They then followed that up with a discussion of Prop 29, the cigarette tax measure that will go to cancer research. As you would expect, there is a heavily tobacco-funded No campaign on that one.  It turns out the Yes side isn’t entirely without resources. Mike Bloomberg tossed in $500,000 today bringing their fundraising to nearly ten million. While Lance Armstrong and Bloomberg won’t match the over $30 million, there will be resources. The discussion on Forum, though, is worth a listen.

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.

Another Term Limits Reform Measure Gathers Steam

I’ve never really hidden my disdain for the term limits we have in California. It only serves to gather power in unelected staff and lobbyists. Six years just isn’t enough, and the merry-go-round of elections just doesn’t really help anybody.

So, a few months ago, the LA Chamber of Commerce and the LA Labor Fed got together to file an initiative that would basically do what Prop 93 a few years ago would have done. That is change the term limits to allow 12 years in either house, rather than 6 in one, and 8 in another. It seems now, that is more likely to get on the ballot after a big check arrived in the bank account:

The developer of a proposed NFL stadium in Los Angeles County has donated $300,000 to change the state’s term limits law. Seed money for the political committee, Californians for a Fresh Start, has come from three major donors within the past two weeks. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce has donated $10,000, the L.A . County Federation of Labor has donated $100,000 and  Majestic Realty, the developer, has given $300,000.

Proponents of the measure are hoping to place it on the November 2010 ballot.(CapWeekly)

Well, politics isn’t pretty is it? You have a big stadium deal pushed through verrrrry late in the legislative session. And oh, look at that, a term limits measure appears out of nowhere. Wow!

But, whatever the motivation for term limits reform, it’s a good idea. I’m not sure it would be my top priority, that would be reserved for eliminating supermajority requirements, but good policy nonetheless.

UPDATE by Robert: As I understand it, the difference between this and Prop 93 is that currently serving legislators would be exempted, whereas under Prop 93, they would have been included. That helps this proposal be seen less as incumbent protection and as the sensible reform it actually is.

America’s Worst Legislature

Trying to appease the cowards running for higher office in the Assembly rank and file, Karen Bass has dropped the sentencing commission out of the prison reform package.

The sentencing commission was among the most controversial provisions of the Senate prison plan. But on Monday, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said “a real sentencing commission, with teeth, is my top priority” for corrections legislation.

Steinberg spokeswoman Alicia Dlugosh said Monday that the Senate leader would like to see any legislation passed by the Assembly “realize the same dollar figure in savings as the Senate bill.”

The bill passed last week by the Senate, AB 14 XXX would save the state an estimated $600 million, according to an analysis of the bill. But the Assembly seemed poised to make key changes that would reduce those savings by about $220 million.

Among the other changes expected to be made by the Assembly would be the elimination of a provision that would change some crimes which can be either felonies or misdemeanors –known as “wobblers” – exclusively to misdemeanors. The Assembly bill expected to come up for a vote this week would leave the state’s wobbler law unchanged.

Assembly Democrats also balked at a provision in the Senate bill that would allow some sick and elderly inmates to finish their sentences under house arrest.

Bass said she hoped to pass the sentencing commission as stand-alone legislation later in the year.  First of all, the year ends on September 11, and second, adding the commission to a must-pass reform package was the whole point.  If lawmakers objected to it as part of a package, they’re not going to turn around and support it in isolation.

Punting on this issue will ensure that federal judges will be mandating reductions of the prison population 10 years down the road.  The only reform worth doing in the package now clarifies parole policy, devoting resources to those who need to be monitored instead of the blanket supervision that has turned our parole system into a revolving door.  But that will not be enough to turn around the prison crisis for the long-term, without finally doing something about our ever expanding sentencing law.

This also shows the complete dysfunction of the leadership.  Darrell Steinberg may not go along with the limited version, and I don’t blame him.  His chamber has now stuck their neck out three times on tough votes – Tranquillon Ridge drilling, HUTA raids and now this – that the Assembly has quashed.  I wasn’t unhappy about the first two, but if I was in the Senate, I’d be pissed about all these controversial votes I was needlessly taking.  You’d think Karen Bass would have a sense of her caucus and know that she couldn’t pass whatever she and Steinberg and the Governor hammered out in private.  Because she’s on her way out the door in 2010 she has no leverage over the caucus, because everyone’s termed out and running for something else they have no fealty to the Assembly, and because they all live perpetually in fear they won’t take a vote they know would help future generations deal with a crisis.

As I’ve said, a broken process will almost always produce a broken result.  But individual lawmakers need to be called out.  Particularly the three Assemblymembers running for Attorney General who think they’re showing off their toughness.  When all of them lose, they’ll probably attribute it to other factors.  They should be reminded of this day.

What A Constitutional Convention Means To Me

People seemed to really engage with this post about a Constitutional convention, so I wanted to follow up with some of my thoughts for what a convention could tackle and what it could look like.  As it happens I attended a town hall meeting about a proposed ConCon a couple weeks ago in Santa Monica, featuring Bob Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies, Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council, Steven Hill and Mark Paul of the New America Foundation, Asm. Julia Brownley (AD-41), Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor and LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl.

At the root, a Constitutional convention must concern itself with restoring confidence in government.  Right now, that’s at an all-time low, especially after budget agreements hashed out in secret that defy the will of the people and an erosion in the public trust in lawmakers to do the right thing in Sacramento.  Government is not responsive, in fact in many cases it cannot Constitutionally be responsive to the popular will.  The institutions have become paralyzed and captive to special interest lobbying.  We have ten lobbyists for every legislator in Sacramento.  And we have turned over the reins to a new branch of government, the ballot, and anything significant must be mandated by a vote of the people.  As Julia Brownley, now in her second term, said, “Government structure is broken and we need to fix it… I didn’t understand until I set foot in the Legislature the paralysis and gridlock that kills the system.”  I think Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, who is carrying Constitutional convention legislation in the Senate, put it well when he said that California remains at the vanguard with anything that can be accomplished on a majority-vote basis.  Anything with a 2/3 threshold, in other words anything fiscal, is a mess. And it needs to be solved.

So how would a convention, the first of its kind since 1879, be structured? (flip)

 Right now, only the Legislature, with a 2/3 vote, can call for one.  But the Bay Area Council and others who have studied this believe they can go to the ballot with two measures – one changing the Constitution to allow the people to call for a convention, and another to call for one.  These can even be accomplished on the same ballot; while some have raised legal objections to this, this is pretty much how a recall election works, with the recall and replacement on the same ballot.  Those who want to maintain the status quo because it works for them may disagree, but the California Supreme Court has clearly shown very wide latitude on votes of the people under the current system.

Other major issues to be hashed out with a convention are the scope and the delegate selection.  Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council has said that everything within government should be on the table, which worries some that a Pandora’s box will be open, an opportunity to mess with fundamental rights.  First of all, that’s the case right now, as last November proved.  Second, I do believe there would be eventual problems with any document that nullified rights granted by the federal Constitution (the basis of the current Prop. 8 lawsuit).  What we’re really talking about with a convention is a process to create a more sustainable structure, dealing with electoral issues, governance issues, fiscal/budget issues, and direct democracy issues.  That’s a fair bit of territory, and I don’t see any need to expand beyond that.

Then there’s the thorny issue of delegate selection.  Steven Hill explains in a study of the issue that there are three basic means for selecting delegates: through appointments, through elections, or through a random selection consistent with state demographics.  There are plusses and minuses to all of them, but Hill reasons that the appointment process could wind up looking like patronage, and the election process mired by our useless campaign finance laws.  Both would fall to the whims of the current broken process and could be hijacked by special interests seeking input in the results of a convention.  They would also wind up looking a lot like the Legislature, which doesn’t go far to renewing confidence and trust in government.  So Hill falls on the side of random selection as the “least worst” option.

Pros: Random selection would be the best method for ensuring a representative body; random selection of “average citizens” brings a sense of grassroots legitimacy to the process, which would give the proposals of the constitutional convention credibility with the voters; random selection might be the best process for shielding delegates against special interest influence; random selection has the gloss of being something new and different, never been tried, and therefore may have the greatest potential to capture the imagination of the public and the media.

Cons: Random selection of “average citizens” would not necessarily guarantee sufficient expertise on the part of the delegates. A thorough educational process would be necessary, and it would be important that the educational process for delegates was designed to prevent “capture” by any particular special interest or perspective. The selection process would also need to weed out any delegates who are not are sufficiently committed to participate for many months.

I don’t think capturing the imagination of the media is a good reason to do it, but Hill has cited examples of citizen’s commissions in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and in New York City dealing with the World Trade Center redevelopment, with fairly positive reviews.

I think where you fall along these lines can be best determined by your theories of government.  If you think that the system needs to be gamed for particular outcomes, you probably want an election that would allow the participation of various special interests.  If you believe that good government and progressive government are analogous, that an iron-clad structure itself need not be partisan, but just allow the prevailing philosophy of the majority to have sway over the results, you may be interested in a random selection based on demographics (and, I would add, party ID).  Right now, we have a progressive legislature and a conservative system, which frustrates efforts at accountability.  A small-d democratic system would not only be more fair than the current system of minority rule, and it would not only be more helpful for the voters trying to determine who is responsible for what happens in government, but it would actually be more fiscally responsible.  The Two Santa Claus Theory that dictates we can have robust services and endlessly low taxes forces government to resort to borrowing and accounting gimmicks to cover deficits, which lead to larger deficits pushed out to the future.  Spending mandates like Prop. 98 haven’t even worked to protect school funding – we’ve become the worst state on spending K-12 under that mandate.  A clear set of rules that resists enshrining policy but allows policy to work unimpeded through a framework of government seems to be the best practice here.

Then there’s our failed experiment with direct democracy, which brought about many of the constrictions under which current government now labors, such as the crazy 2/3 requirements, which allow the majority to say that the minority blocks their wishes while allowing the minority to claim that they have no power because they’re in the minority.

What do I think a Constitutional convention needs to include?

• ending the 2/3 requirements and restoring democracy to the fiscal process over the tyranny of the minority, and returning decisions for spending and taxation to elected representatives

• two-year budget cycles and performance-based budgeting to try and engender a long-term approach

• indirect democracy, where the legislature can either work out the item on the ballot with proponents and pass it through their chamber, or amend items that reach the ballot.  In addition, we need a higher barrier for Constitutional amendments and changes to the process of signature gathering.

• any ballot-box budgeting must include a dedicated funding source – “paygo for initiatives”

• smaller legislative districts, either by expanding the Assembly or moving to a unicameral legislature with 150 or more members.

• elimination of the current term limits, the tighest in the nation, with more of a happy medium

• instant runoff voting for state legislative vacancies to speed the process of filling them

• local government gets the local resources they collect without them routing through Sacramento

Those are a few of the things I’d like to see addressed, and I’m sure people have additional ones.  The crisis we currently have in California presents an opportunity for new thinking about government and how to manage the largest state in the union and one of the largest economies in the world.  Despite the doom and gloom, California retains its vibrancy, its diversity, its abundance.  Only the structure under with it governs itself has failed, and that failure has seeped into everyday life.  Lifting that structure will be like lifting a heavy weight off the backs of the citizenry.  We can lead a path to a better future.

Related – Repair California

Why does California have a Senate?

Does it serve some purpose? Four year terms aren’t so very much longer than two. They don’t represent counties anymore. Just because the Feds have a Senate (in all its splendor) isn’t much of a reason for us to have one.

I’d trade it in for term limits. You can be re-elected as many times as your district wants to vote for you but you have to run every two years.

Or, even more blue-sky: Increase the size of the Assembly and make the new 40 seats statewide party list seats. If you get 2.5% of the vote, you get a seat. Or some such arrangement, maybe not statewide. But the two major state parties are such failures, I think it’d be good to get some wild cards in there.

Bill Bagley on Bipartisanship

Today in the Capitol Morning Report, a subscription only fact-filled tip sheet, former Assembly Member Bill Bagley takes a go at the gridlock in Sacramento.  You might remember Bagley's name, as he is a long-time Republican Assemblyman who endorsed Barack Obama for the Presidency. He had a record of being a real moderate, but it was easier to be a moderate in the 1960s when he spent most of his time in the Legislature.

He goes through a whole litany of reasons why the Legislature is not a very bipartisan place from his day to the current antipathy.  Bagley begins with the ending of cross-filing, which brought a bunch of moderate Republicans, in 1959.  He then notes that the reform (Prop 9, 1974) that ended lobbyist lunches alienated the members from each other. They no longer dined and “hung out” with each other, and had the opportunity to like each other as human beings.

All of that is interesting background, but the real problem comes from the two more recent developments: Prop 13 and term limits.  Prop 13 brought a bunch of conservative radicals who not only voted in a bloc, but wouldn’t even sit next to Democrats.  

But the death knell to bipartisanship was really term limits.  The term limits blocked any hope of legislators developing a trust between members. There can be no long-term relationships of trust, because there are no relationships at all. Members have an eye on the next office, and the primary for that office.

Bagley’s solution is the Open Primary and optimism for the meaningless Proposition 11 redistricting reforms. As we’ve said here many, many times, Prop 11 isn’t a real solution. You can’t redistrict “moderate” districts into LA or SF, or even some Republican areas. Perhaps the open primary would bring a few less partisan voters into the voting booth, but it’s certainly no lock that will actually happen.

What amazes me is how quickly Bagley just drifts over the more obvious solution: repeal term limits.  Term limits create a constant merry go round where legislators are always looking towards the next office, ignoring their current surroundings.  Allow them to get used to the place, and to their fellow legislators. Unfortunately, as we discovered with Prop 93 last year, there is still quite a bit of opposition to that particular reform.

A final point should be made.  One party has been willing to compromise, has made cuts to some of its core constituencies, has been willing to adjust to reflect the reality of our time. Unfortunately, you can’t compromise with somebody who refuses to budge.  You have to give a little to get a little, and Bagley’s Republican heirs refuse to do so.  

Was The Last Redistricting Too Clever By Half?

Dave Johnson, Speak Out California

Following the 2000 census the California Assembly, Senate and Governorship were all controlled by Democrats.  In line with tradition they used their majority power to create new electoral districts designed to maximize the Democratic majority.  They did this by drawing district lines that bunched Democrats and Republicans together in some very oddly shaped districts.


Look at district 15, drawn here in brown.  It sends branches up toward Sacramento, an arm toward the East Bay, a stump to the south, etc.  This is what a safe district looks like.  Neighboring district 10 has an equally odd arrangement of offshoots to the east and south and a little hook over there on its left.

In 1990 this drawing of districts to create safe seats backfired.  With safe districts turnover of legislators became rare and lawmakers became less responsive to voters, which made voters angry enough to pass term limits to try to solve the problem.

But that didn’t stop the games.  The 2000 census created a new batch of safe districts, and I think this backfired again, only worse.  First, no one foresaw 2008’s electoral sweep.  This redistricting created safe Republican districts as well as Democratic districts because they increased the number of Democratic seats by bunching Republicans together into a few districts.  The 2008 sweep could have taken out several more Republicans than it did because of the concentration of Republicans in these districts.  In SD-19 Hannah-Beth Jackson lost her Senate race by less than 900 votes in that “safe” Republican district.  A fair redistricting would have turned Santa Barbara’s Senate district over to the Democrats because enough voters there were fed up with the increasingly extremist Republicans running for office.

But the very worst consequence of the 2001 redistricting was that it guaranteed just enough safe Republican seats to enable the remaining extremist minority to block budgets while avoiding the political consequences.  The way their districts are drawn they are going to get reelected no matter what, so they refuse to approve any budget that does not yield to all of the most absolutely extreme right-wing demands.

This November voters passed Proposition 11, which tries to set up a neutral process for drawing legislative districts.  I hope that this process works as intended, creating districts that fairly represent their constituents’ interests.  I also hope that this opens up the possibility of truly contested elections in which responsive politicians are asked to stay in office — and politicians who do not represent their constituents can be replaced.

I want to point out that if Proposition 11’s fair redistricting is successful this removes the justification for term limits.  Voters should be allowed to keep representatives as well as remove them.

Click through to Speak Out California

The Term Limit Dance: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Term limits continue to keep women legislators trotting one step forward and two steps back in the battle for equal representation. Facing the worst budget deficit in history, legislators returned to Sacramento yesterday.  It is times like these, when experience and institutional knowledge play an important role in negotiations to make sure that the budget is fair and responsible.

Unfortunately, due to term limits, some of our most seasoned legislators will be leaving office at the end of this year. In November 34 tested legislators will be leaving office on both sides of the partisan fence.  It is during our uncertain economic future when decisions are being made that affect all Californians, we become acutely aware of the importance that experienced leadership can bring.  With a two-thirds majority mandate required to pass a budget, those years of experience at persuasion and consensus-building are indispensable.

In February, CALIFORNIA LIST held some moderated focus groups to better understand the perspectives of women when it comes to the importance of women in politics.  We found that there is a strong perception that female candidates and office holders will do a better job on the issues most important to them – in particular health care and education, two of the most contentious areas of the budget, but hugely important issues that affect all Californians.

As the founder of the CALIFORNIA LIST, I am concerned with the declining number of women in Sacramento.  The term limits that have dwindled our Assemblywomen since 1992 make it likely that its ranks will lose as many as five women again this election cycle. This is indeed a disheartening downward spiral.

When we look at the women we are losing in this year we will have a tremendous loss of experience and leadership. These are knowledgeable women who have moved up the through the political pipeline to make a difference for future generations. And still mandated term limits continue to erode the foundation of our qualified women legislators.

On August 13th we will gather in our state capital to celebrate the tireless service of the following women who have impacted California during their tenure in the state legislature. If you would like to attend, click here for more information.

**Senator Sheila Kuehl, author of 171 bills that have been signed into law, including legislation to establish paid family leave.

**Senator Migden, author of laws to create California’s domestic partner registry and the DNA database to take rapists off the streets.

** Assemblymember Berg authored legislation to allow more seniors to stay safely in their own homes.

** Assemblymember Karnette who authored significant education reform and helped to enact the Amber Alert to rescue abducted children.

**Assemblymember Sally Lieber and Speaker pro Tempore is well-known for authoring laws to increase California’s minimum wage and laws to reduce air pollution.

**Assemblymember Nicole Parra passed legislation that makes it easier for prosecutors to prove implied malice for DUI offenses that result in a fatality.

** Assemblymember Soto has a legislative record showing her strong support for the working class including legislation that increased workers’ compensation benefits.