It looks like quite a dilemma for Wilma Chan.

If the former Assemblywoman from Alameda joins with the Democratic leadership in supporting a term-limit reform initiative that reportedly has gathered enough petition signatures to appear on February's ballot, she's supporting a measure that dooms her aspiration to the state Senate in 2008.

If she bucks the leadership — including her political mentor, state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland — and opposes the initiative, she's advocating for denying Perata another term, and in doing so, probably denying herself much of the campaign support and money Perata's formidable network could provide.

What to do? Chan, as usual, is toeing the party line. She said she's basically in favor of any measure that will keep seasoned lawmakers in office longer.

"If it passes, I don't plan on running against the senator — I'mjust going to see what happens, I guess," she said. "There are a lot of people out there campaigning who are in similar situations to mine."

But "there's no certainty that it's going to pass," she said, and so she'll keep campaigning at least until Feb. 5. So far, "it's going well, raising money, getting my team in place" and meeting the masses in the 9th State Senate District. "I think a lot of people are supportive of me coming back."

Current law limits a person to four two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the state Senate — 16 years in all.


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The Term Limits and Legislative Reform Act would cap a person's service at 12 years in the Legislature, but without regard to whether the years were served in the Assembly or Senate. In other words, an individual could serve six two-year terms in the Assembly, three four-year terms in the Senate or some combination of terms in both houses.

But the initiative also carries a sort of "grandfather clause" that says a current state Senate or Assembly member may "serve 12 years in the house in which he or she is currently serving." Perata was elected to his state Senate seat in a 1998 special election, so he would be able to seek another term if this measure passes.

The Chan for State Senate committee had $401,759.23 in the bank as of the end of 2006; only $10,000 in late contributions have been reported since then. Chan's campaign Web site, http://www.wilmachan.org, features a blog and an endorsement list last updated in March.

Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, also has intended to run for Perata's state Senate seat next year, but has said that if Perata becomes able to seek another term, she'll not challenge him. Hancock for Senate 2008 didn't have any cash at 2007's start but reported a $7,200 contribution in June from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 302; her 2006 Assembly campaign finished last year with $78,659.68 in the bank.

Not running for the state Senate next year won't harm Hancock's political future much, as the same measure that would keep Perata in office would make her eligible for three more Assembly terms.

But Chan would have to endure another four years without the bully pulpit of elected office before she could seek the state Senate seat — a significant name-recognition disadvantage.

She's not without a paycheck, though, because Perata in January named her to the California Medical Assistance Commission, which contracts with hospitals, insurers and other entities to provide health care services to Medi-Cal recipients. Her term expires Jan. 1, 2009, and pays $50,000 per year plus necessary travel expenses.

Oddly enough, it was Chan who helped Perata to secure his current term in which he became the Senate President Pro Tem, arguably the state's most powerful Democrat.

Filling less than half a term doesn't count toward the existing term limits, and Perata won a Nov. 3, 1998, special election to fill the 9th Senate District seat that Barbara Lee had vacated in April 1998. Perata argued his term didn't start until he was sworn in on Dec. 7, 1998 — four days less than half a term — and so he could run again in 2004.

Then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer agreed, but Perata and Chan didn't want to risk Republicans winning a court decision saying otherwise to kick Perata off the ballot. So Chan, with Perata's blessing, sued Perata in Alameda County Superior Court, where a judge in October 2003 concluded Perata could run again. "I knew it could've been challenged, and better it gets challenged by friendly fire," Perata said at the time. "Nothing has changed with my support for her (seeking the Senate seat) when I leave."

Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@angnewspapers.com at (510) 208-6428. Read the Political Blotter at http://www.ibabuzz.com/politics.