State lawmakers seek a long-lasting gift for themselves | SierraSun.com

State lawmakers seek a long-lasting gift for themselves

Thomas Elias

Here at the height of the winter holiday season, it’s easy as can be to spot people seeking generous gifts for themselves.

For Californians contemplating the Feb. 5 primary election and the fast-approaching start of early absentee voting, there are 42 very obvious gift-seekers.

These are the 18 state senators and 24 Assembly members who provided many of the Legislature’s votes for creating the early presidential primary and now are pushing voters to give them another four or six years in office.

For make no mistake, this is what the early February vote is really about. Yes, the early date will probably give California far more voice than it’s had for decades in choosing the presidential nominees of both major parties.

But for the people who set this up, Proposition 93 is the real point of the earliest-ever California balloting.

It’s about Fabian Nunez wanting six more years as Assembly speaker and Don Perata wishing for four more years at the helm of the state Senate. And many of their legislative minions also wanting to keep their snouts in the public trough.

Despite serious questions about their ethics, neither of today’s legislative leaders would have the slightest problem getting reelected indefinitely in their carefully gerrymandered districts ” if they get the chance.

As it now stands, both will be termed out at the end of next year, along with about one-third of their fellow lawmakers. Nunez, with only six total years of service, could conceivably run for a state Senate seat if one opens up, but none seems about to in his area. Perata’s Sacramento career would simply be finished a year from now.

Both would lose all the lucrative campaign contributions they spread around to colleagues to ensure support when leadership positions come up for new votes. Both would lose the opportunity to take luxurious lobbyist-funded trips abroad.

Imagine, no more $5,000 wine-buying excursions in Bordeaux, France for poor Fabian. No Louis Vuitton luggage bought with campaign dollars.

So these guys and their colleagues created Proposition 93, which would limit service in the Legislature to 12 years, two less than the current limit of 14, but would allow that service all to be conducted in one house or the other, ending the present six-year Assembly limit and the eight-year maximum in the Senate.

Plus, everyone now serving would be able to keep running for reelection until they reach that magic 12-year mark in one house or the other. Altogether, 42 present legislators could get extensions under this measure, to be decided a convenient month or so before the filing deadline for the June primary election for state offices.

Does anyone still wonder why the Legislature decided to have two primaries, rather than one, as has sufficed in all prior election years?

One slight snafu: Because of the same ineptitude that creeps into so much of its work, the current crop of legislators wrote Proposition 93 so that legislators who were previously termed out can probably run again ” so long as they didn’t switch houses and serve the full 14-year maximum. Oops, that wasn’t what the incumbents wanted ” some of them might actually get unexpected primary election challenges.

The current lawmakers say it ain’t so, claiming ex-members of their club are excluded. But virtually every other lawyer reading their measure says that’s wrong. The courts will eventually have to decide this one, but it seems likely Proposition 93 might provide at least a little less safety than the incumbents intended.

Still, any law that favors a small class over all others is a bad law. Yes, it makes sense to let lawmakers concentrate their service in one place and make better use of acquired experience. But no, it makes no sense to give a few men and women a free gift, just because they want it.

In short, Proposition 93 is unjust because it would give Perata and those in his situation more time in office than others who have gone before or anyone who might come after. It’s discrimination against anyone who doesn’t belong to a small and exclusive class that simply wants to keep slurping money, privilege and power.

Which means voters should decide to give themselves a gift after the holiday season and reject this most self-serving of propositions.