Commentary: Restore the Legislature - End Term Limits

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, December 11, 2009

The contest for Assembly Speaker pits freshman Assemblyman John Perez against two term Assemblyman Kevin de Leon. There’s not a lot of difference between the two. Both are from Los Angeles. Both were union organizers before they came to the Assembly.

The only people who really care who wins are other assembly members. The speaker hands out the big offices, key committee assignments and chairmanships, all perks useful for legislators who want to move on to the next level – the state senate, Congress, statewide office or a lucrative lobbying job when they are termed out.

Term limits have diminished the power of the speaker and the Legislature. Politicians no longer build careers there. They don’t have time to acquire institutional knowledge, expertise or loyalty. Campaign contributions no longer flow through the speaker. Other than denying someone a big office, there is little a speaker can do to coax or threaten a member to vote for the budget, or any other important bill.

Where did the power go? To the third house – that army of unelected lobbyists who represent powerful special interests.

Efforts to reform California’s dysfunctional government will fail if they do not do something to restore the legislative branch of government, including the speaker. At minimum, that means ending term limits.

Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.