Term limit measure gathers 1.1 million signatures

The business and labor coalition formed to promote a ballot measure that would alter California’s term limit law has submitted more than 1.1 million signatures to the Secretary of State, a substantially higher number than mandated under state law.

The Secretary of State requires 694,354 signatures of registered voters to qualify the initiative for the February ballot.

The measure would shorten the amount of time a legislator may serve from 14 years to 12 years but it would allow a lawmaker to hold office in either the Senate or the Assembly for the full time period. The current law limits lawmakers to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate.

If passes, the initiative would also allow incumbents that would otherwise term out in 2008 to seek re-election to their seats, including the leaders of both houses, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata of Oakland and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez of Los Angeles.

It would also benefit state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch and Assemblymembers Guy Houston of San Ramon and Loni Hancock of Berkeley.

Here’s a portion of the press release sent out a few minute ago from the initiative’s proponents:

“Putting term limits reform on the February ballot will set the stage for the Legislature to approve a companion ballot measure for a fair reapportionment of California’s political districts, and bring some needed stability to our legislative process,” said Allan Zaremberg, President and CEO of CalChamber. “Solutions to California’s numerous issues will be easier when legislators aren’t in a constant campaign cycle and are more accountable to the voters in competitive districts.”

“Reforming term limits is a key part of the comprehensive change we need to restore the confidence of citizens in their government,” Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) said. “Californians also want government to be more responsive to their needs and more accountable for results. It’s not just about how long we serve, but how well we serve.”

“Representing the people of California is honorable work. This initiative with its bipartisan coalition of supporters can bring more stability and greater expertise to our system,” Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) said.

“California is really an entire country. We all want the smartest, most experienced people leading us at the federal level; we must have it at the state level, too,” said Rick Jacobs, founder of the progressive Courage Campaign. “We need real reform so that our elected leaders can learn how the complex state runs and then lead. A revolving door benefits the lobbyists, not the people. That’s why I’m for this initiative.”

Early polls and overwhelming response to signature gathering shows strong support among voters for the initiative.

“With over 400,000 more signatures collected than needed, our campaign is coming out of the gate strong,” said Matt Dowd, campaign strategist for the initiative. “Polls show already strong numbers, with support gaining over time. The latest San Jose State Survey and Policy Research Institute poll clocks in with an overwhelming 56 percent of likely voters supporting the initiative.”

Click here to see the poll.

“While the Secretary of State still needs to certify our signatures, we’re looking forward to running a vigorous campaign through the fall and winter,” said Gale Kaufman, chief campaign strategist for the initiative. “We’ll reach out to voters and educate them about our current system and why we need these reforms.”

U.C. Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain and U.C San Diego Professor Thad Kousser have written extensive reports on the impact of term limits, including one for the Public Policy Institute of California: http://www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=347, which was also published in a series of studies by the National Conference of State Legislators: http://www.ncsl.org/jptl/CaseStudies/CaseContents.htm.

“The current budget impasse highlights several major flaws with the current system of term limits. Legislators need be able to develop better working relationships with their colleagues to lessen partisan rancor and intransigency on key budget issues. The current system stymies those vital relationships and impedes productive compromise,” Prof. Kousser said. “Also, Legislative leadership that turns over quickly because of term limits begs for reform. Allowing legislators to serve twelve years in either house will help create a more effective Legislature.”

In addition to enhancing the effectiveness of the Legislature with term limits reform, there currently are several redistricting proposals being examined in the State Senate and State Assembly.

“I look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to place meaningful and fair reapportionment on the ballot, as well,” continued Allan Zaremberg, President and CEO of CalChamber.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen