Prop. 93 is a major test for voters
All the national focus will be on the presidential vote as results are tallied Feb. 5 in the earliest California primary ever. But for people who live here, the most important outcome may involve the balloting on Proposition 93, an effort by legislative leaders to alter their own term limits.
For decades, voters here have justifiably prided themselves on being wiser than their elected representatives. Via initiatives, they themselves passed most truly important state laws of the last 40 years, from coastal protection to attempts at campaign reform and requirements for anyone using harmful chemicals to provide ample notice to the public.
Voters have also nixed some short-sighted, mean-spirited and anti-public health measures, like the attempts to eliminate local controls on smoking and quarantine AIDS patients.
But they’ve been bamboozled on occasion, as when they soundly rejected a 1998 measure that would have rolled back electricity deregulation, one that could have prevented the electricity crunch early in this decade which remains one cause of today’s sky-high power rates.
But rarely has anyone put forward a ballot measure as blatantly deceptive as Proposition 93, the brainchild of the Legislature’s Democratic leaders, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez of East Los Angeles and state Senate President Don Perata of Oakland.
If the measure had been titled accurately, it would be far easier for voters to see through it. But the title and ballot description of this measure, written by Democratic Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, is not the least bit reflective of the self-serving nature of the Perata-Nunez initiative.
This one is titled “Limits on Legislators’ Terms in Office.” The ballot description goes on to say it “reduces the total amount of time a person may serve in the state legislature from 14 years to 12 years.”
What it doesn’t say is that none of that applies to anyone in office now. In fact, this measure would let Perata and Nunez, both of whom would be termed out at year’s end without it, stay on several more years ” four for Perata and six for Nunez.
Other lawmakers who have spent six years in the Assembly or eight in the state Senate could also extend their terms.
There were plenty of good reasons for moving the state’s presidential primary up from June to early February, but this was the only one that counted with the lawmakers who did the deed. They kept the June primary intact for state offices. Because filing deadlines for the June vote fall about one month after the first primary and because Proposition 93 would take effect immediately, it amounts to a term extension and not a new term limit for many of those in office now.
So the real question for voters, the one they’ll get to if they see through the misleading ballot title and description, is whether Californians want to retain the current legislative leadership.
We are not talking about political giants here. There is no Jesse Unruh, no Bob Moretti, no Bob Monogan, no Leo McCarthy, no Willie Brown, all past strong Assembly speakers who knew how to use the office for the public good. There is no David Roberti here, no John Burton, no Bill Lockyer, not even a Ben Hulse, all past strong state Senate presidents who held office and later left without scandal and certainly without being the subjects of a federal investigation, as reportedly Perata is.
Unruh, Moretti and Brown all were masters at using campaign funds to solidify their positions and push their agendas. Nunez is a master at using campaign funds for his own luxury, as when he spent over $5,000 buying wine in Bordeaux, France.
Those past legislative leaders also maintained a strong degree of independence from governors they served with, the likes of Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, Goodwin Knight, Pete Wilson and more. They were no one’s lapdog, as Nunez often has seemed when kowtowing to current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The bottom line is this: the current breed of legislative leader does not measure up to many of the greats of the past. The question now is whether voters will see through the smoke screen of Proposition 93’s ballot title and description and act to assure the Legislature gets some new, more independent and less self-serving leaders.
That’s what a no-on-93 vote means on Feb. 5 and that’s why this ballot measure is a true test of whether voters still know how to pass laws that are good for California and reject the ones that plainly are not.
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