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Snoozing Our Way Through Proposition 28

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Hardly a day passes without a "No on 29" commercial blitzing the airwaves.

To date, more than $40 million has been committed to the effort, mostly by tobacco interests, while pro-Proposition 29 forces have spent about $4 million.

It's another story with Proposition 28, however. Officially known as the California Change in Term Limits Initiative, the proposal would make two changes in the California term limits for state legislators.

First, it would reduce the total number of years any legislator could serve from 14 (no more than 6 in the assembly, no more than 8 in the state senate) to 12. Second, legislators could serve up to 12 years in either or both houses in any combination.

So what kind of attention has Proposition 28 attracted? Hardly any. Supporters have contributed $2.2 million, while opponents have given a paltry $150,000.

Why so much attention for one proposition and so little for the other? It's about the stakes.

Proposition 29 would raise tobacco taxes by one dollar per pack, generating $850 million in revenues for cancer research. The tobacco industry knows full well that the higher the price, the less likely smokers will be to purchase cigarettes. The result: reduced corporate revenues. No wonder they're fighting so hard.

In the case of Proposition 28, the change is marginal. With legislators allowed to serve all their years in a single chamber, they could develop a bit more seniority and expertise before they are termed out. Fair enough, but the change is hardly monumental.

The most important element of Proposition 28 is that the state continues term limits, thereby preventing legislators from acquiring long-term mastery of their craft.

Detractors have claimed that without term limits, legislators could remain in office without accountability to the voters because of districts that were routinely gerrymandered to protect incumbents.

But that's no longer possible, given that the districts are drawn by an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, thanks to the passage of a ballot proposition by the voters in 2008. So now, with competitive districts, why is there still opposition to the elimination of term limits?

The answer is fairly simple. With legislators not allowed to remain in office very long, few people have the opportunity to make elected office a vocation. That automatically limits the kind of people who run for office.

Equally distressing, while legislators lead something of a turnstile existence, special interests and their lobbyists have an unelected permanence in Sacramento.Hardly a day passes without a "No on 29" commercial blitzing the airwaves.

To date, more than $40 million has been committed to the effort, mostly by tobacco interests, while pro-Proposition 29 forces have spent about $4 million.

It's another story with Proposition 28, however. Officially known as the California Change in Term Limits Initiative, the proposal would make two changes in the California term limits for state legislators.

First, it would reduce the total number of years any legislator could serve from 14 (no more than 6 in the assembly, no more than 8 in the state senate) to 12. Second, legislators could serve up to 12 years in either or both houses in any combination.

So what kind of attention has Proposition 28 attracted? Hardly any. Supporters have contributed $2.2 million, while opponents have given a paltry $150,000.

Why so much attention for one proposition and so little for the other? It's about the stakes.

Proposition 29 would raise tobacco taxes by one dollar per pack, generating $850 million in revenues for cancer research. The tobacco industry knows full well that the higher the price, the less likely smokers will be to purchase cigarettes. The result: reduced corporate revenues. No wonder they're fighting so hard.

In the case of Proposition 28, the change is marginal. With legislators allowed to serve all their years in a single chamber, they could develop a bit more seniority and expertise before they are termed out. Fair enough, but the change is hardly monumental.

The most important element of Proposition 28 is that the state continues term limits, thereby preventing legislators from acquiring long-term mastery of their craft.

Detractors have claimed that without term limits, legislators could remain in office without accountability to the voters because of districts that were routinely gerrymandered to protect incumbents.

But that's no longer possible, given that the districts are drawn by an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, thanks to the passage of a ballot proposition by the voters in 2008. So now, with competitive districts, why is there still opposition to the elimination of term limits?

The answer is fairly simple. With legislators not allowed to remain in office very long, few people have the opportunity to make elected office a vocation. That automatically limits the kind of people who run for office.

Equally distressing, while legislators lead something of a turnstile existence, special interests and their lobbyists have an unelected permanence in Sacramento.

How ironic. The people are not allowed to keep in office those they have elected to serve, while unelected lobbyists and other influencers can hang around the policy making process without challenge. How's that for turning the democratic process on its head?

In the end, Proposition 28 is little more than a political sideshow for 2012. The change is minimal, while the status quo remains largely in place. Inasmuch as powerful interests prefer the status quo and their ability to manipulate it with their expertise, no wonder the proposal has drawn so little attention.

Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst at NBC Bay Area.


How ironic. The people are not allowed to keep in office those they have elected to serve, while unelected lobbyists and other influencers can hang around the policy making process without challenge. How's that for turning the democratic process on its head?

In the end, Proposition 28 is little more than a political sideshow for 2012. The change is minimal, while the status quo remains largely in place. Inasmuch as powerful interests prefer the status quo and their ability to manipulate it with their expertise, no wonder the proposal has drawn so little attention.

Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst at NBC Bay Area.

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