With the passing of John Vasconcellos, it has been frequently noted that the former legislator was often ridiculed for his self-esteem commission. I was on that bandwagon at the time, but way in the back, on rare occasion poking at the commission as another area in which government was extending its influence while ignoring basic governmental responsibilities.
But I was open to discuss things with the rumpled legislator and accepted Vasconcellos’ invitation to follow him around for a day at the state capitol. It was an exercise he followed on occasion to initiate people into his world as a state legislator. For an individual like John Vasconcellos, it was a world occupied by few others for he conducted business and viewed the world unlike any who served under the capitol dome.
While Vasconcellos’ politics and mine didn’t line up on many issues, we did find a moment of agreement, or shall I say, semi-agreement.
I remember him coming out of a radio studio fresh from an interview. I was waiting to go in as the next guest. He came over to shake my hand and thanked me for taking no-position on a ballot measure that was of grave concern to him. Vasco was at the station campaigning against term limits. It was his passion at the time, believing those remaining in office over a long period of time could be independent of the influential groups that hovered around the capitol.
My taxpayer group had decided not to get involved. On one hand we recognized the power of incumbency to maintain a politician in office and keep out fresh perspectives. On the other, as an organization that believed in the power and right of the people to make important decisions on ballot measures that affected their lives, we gave the people credit for making wise decisions in electing their representatives.
Despite Vasconcellos’ efforts, term limits passed. The people wanted them and still do, although they have altered the original term limits in a subsequent election.
Whether the term limit effort improved governance in California is an open question. One thing is certain that Vasco saw — interest groups have come to dominate California politics more. Term limits, the weakening of political parties and certain campaign funding laws have all contributed to that end.