Indecent proposition

Posted: Jan 22, 2002 12:00 AM
How stupid do some politicians and special interests think California voters are? Pretty stupid, if they think they can spend as much as $6 million on a measure to undermine California's term limits and have voters believe that state pols merely want to win a few more years in office for those rare lawmakers who have a special connection with their constituents. Here's how Proposition 45 would work to undermine Proposition 140, the term-limits measure approved by voters in 1990. Prop. 140 restricted assembly members to three two-year terms and senators to two four-year terms. Prop. 45 would allow assembly members to run for a fourth term and senators to run for a third term if they could collect enough signatures from voters in their districts to equal 20 percent of the district's vote in the last general election. (For example, state Sen. John Burton would have to garner 65,381 signatures, while Assemblywoman Carole Migden would need slightly fewer than 30,000.) Prop. 45 proponents peddle the argument that Prop. 45 would "protect" term limits, that it "empowers" voters to "throw out the scoundrels," but it would allow voters to bestow an extra term on "a single lawmaker whose ability and effectiveness benefits the people of his district." The Yes on 45 folks are so shameless that they even cite the Sept. 11 attacks as a reason to pass the measure. Get it: Prop. 45 fails, Osama bin Laden wins. That's why No on 45 Campaign Manager Todd McCauley says: "It's pretty much the Politician Protection Act. It's a scam." The first thing you need to know is: Any end-of-the-line incumbent will be able to raise the needed signatures because campaign megadonors can bankroll a signature-gathering effort. So while the Prop. 45 argument promises "the option to return a few experienced lawmakers" to office, those few would be limited to all termed-out lawmakers seeking re-election. It's that lack of forthrightness that has turned off even some advocates for longer term limits, such as Bob Stern of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies. "They should have just put a straight measure on the ballot, and then I would have supported it," Stern noted. Meanwhile, term-limit supporters see the measure as the camel's nose in the term-limit tent. GOP Secretary of State Bill Jones worries, "Once you extend (the limits), you make the case four years down the road for the same incumbent to go on and extend it again." Besides, the reason for term limits is because voters like re-electing their incumbents because they're plugged-in, but don't like other people to re-elect their incumbents because they're too entrenched (which means plugged-in for other interests). All those entrenched pols turn governments into exclusive clubs, whose members feel free to disdain nonmembers. Like mere voters. That's why all those business and labor interests have contributed generously to the Yes on 45 campaign. There have been donations from everyone but Enron. So far, $2.6 mil has dropped into the coffers, including $550,000 from the Former Leaders for an Effective Government, an independent expenditure committee created by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton. Thus, No on 45 adviser Dan Schnur noted, "Just about anybody with business before the Legislature is under incredible pressure to either give to the yes side or to sit this one out." Yes on 45 spokeswoman Karin Caves said she preferred her donors to the Washington-based U.S. Term Limits organization -- which is likely to give money to the No on 45 effort, which raised $37,100 last year. "I personally don't like being told by out-of-state organizations to do anything." And I personally don't like in-state interests peddling a ballot measure without leveling with the voters.