Another term limit change will be on the June ballot and I think it’s worth considering if the current term limit law should be altered. The key question: Have term limits been effective in improving California governance? The answer to that question is reflected in poll results appraising the job the state legislature is doing. In February 2012, the Field Poll found only 22% of the voters approved of the job legislators are doing. When California voters passed the term limit law in 1990, the Field Poll found 45% approval of the legislature.

In two decades under the term limit law, voter support for the job performance of the legislators has dropped dramatically. An indication that term limits, as currently constituted, are not working as well as the voters hoped.

Even the chief proponent of the original term limits law, former Los Angeles County Supervisor, Pete Schabarum, recently expressed disappointment on how things turned out. He told the LA Times, “The guys and gals who are seeking office are always looking beyond where they land for the next jump. They spend most of their time in office looking for their next job.”

I opposed the last attempt to change term limits. Proposition 93 on the 2008 ballot was similar to the version that will appear in June as Proposition 28 with one major difference. Proposition 93 would have extended the terms of current legislators and was pushed by then Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata in hopes of staying in their powerful positions.

Proposition 28 is void of that extension provision.

However, Proposition 28 has been criticized for pretending it is something that it is not—a way to reduce elected officials’ time in office. There is validity to that criticism.

Promoters of Proposition 28 argue that the measure would reduce the time elected officials can serve in the legislature from 14 years to 12 years. The math results from changing the law so that an individual can only serve in one legislative house for a total of 12 years, instead of taking advantage of the current system in which a legislator could serve up to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate for a total of 14 years in office.

The fact of the matter is that only a few legislators can find a senate seat after completing their assembly duty (or some such combination) to fulfill the 14 years. Flash Report publisher, Jon Fleischman, made that point in arguing in a post on this site that Proposition 28 should be opposed.

I was neutral on the term limit law when the measure first appeared on the ballot. As a strong supporter of the initiative process, I believe individual voters are capable of making decisions on ballot items, whether to vote yes or no on a proposition or to decide who should represent them in office.

Saying that, I am aware of the power of incumbency. Term limits would stop office holders from having a lifetime claim to a seat. It is true that term limits have brought some positive changes to the legislature. There is more diversity in the legislature and there are fresh faces that come to Sacramento with new ideas.

But have they been successful? The record indicates that the public doesn’t think so.

Lengthening the time that an individual stays in office would give them more experience dealing with and understanding complex issues. It may be naïve to think so, but if legislators serve in office for a greater period they may think more long term about their actions and could be more bold in standing up to the special interests that have undue influence over the legislature today.

During California’s experiment with the current term limit provisions, outside influence over the legislature has only intensified.

There is nothing sacrosanct about the length of terms put in place by California voters in 1990. Even the national group that supports term limits supports differing lengths of terms in other states.

Proposition 28 does not eliminate term limits. It shakes up a process that has not brought desired results.

One only has to go back to the feelings expressed by California voters. In 1990 when they passed term limits a little more than half the voters thought the legislature was not doing a good job. Today more than 75% of voters think the legislature is not doing a good job. Reconsidering the law is appropriate.