THOSE who want California voters to approve Proposition 93 — a measure on the Feb. 5 ballot to alter legislative term limits — are citing a new analysis of the measure by the Center for Governmental Studies, a nonpartisan political think tank that more or less endorses its passage.

The "more or less" qualifier applies because while the lengthy analysis

agrees that allowing a legislator to spend 12years in one house marginally would improve the current term limits of six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate, it decries the special provisions dropped into the measure that especially benefit current legislators.

Those special exemptions — Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata would be the most obvious beneficiary — are just one of the complications of what could, and probably should, be a very straightforward issue.

Another is that when Perata and his counterpart in the Assembly, Speaker Fabian Nunez, began promoting a change in term limits to extend their careers, they also promised to pass a companion measure to reform the way legislative districts are drawn after a decennial census.

But once the term-limit ballot measure was launched, they reneged on redistricting reform, without so much as an explanation.


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What that means, in effect, is that they are asking voters not only to give them longer careers in the Legislature but a guarantee that they'd still be in office in 2011 and thus in position to control redistricting after the 2010 census, which is an awful lot for even a term-limit agnostic to swallow.

Term limits and the gerrymandered districts that were put in place after the 2000 census have been a counterproductive combination.

Term limits, in effect, generate a mandatory turnover of legislative seats while gerrymandered districts give control over who fills those seats to narrow interest groups within the two parties.

The net effect is to make legislative elections a farce and produce a Legislature that is ideologically polarized and chronically incapable of relating to a large, ever-growing and very complex state.

While it's fashionable inside the Capitol to blame term limits for the Legislature's dysfunction, the Center for Government Studies' very thorough analysis undercuts that assumption.

"Term limits are neither the devastating force that opponents decry, nor the panacea that supporters assert," the study concludes — while, in fact, listing more benefits than drawbacks, such as opening opportunities for women and ethnic minorities.

Allowing someone to spend 12 years in one house "is more likely to benefit California than hurt it" by allowing legislators to gain more experience and expertise, but the report doesn't support the supposed legislative renaissance that Proposition 93 advocates tout.

If that were the only issue, it would fall into the "so what?" category — a minor change in law that might be beneficial but at least wouldn't do any harm.

But there are those nagging complications, such as the special benefits for current incumbents and their failure to produce a promised redistricting reform.

Meanwhile, the campaign for Proposition 93 does not appear to be going well, which may be rough justice for the leaders' failure to place redistricting reform on the same ballot.

Support for the measure has been falling in the polls and the opposing campaign has received big infusions of cash from Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a very wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur, and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which took some serious lumps from the legislative leadership this year.

"What goes around comes around," is an old saying among Capitol insiders, the political equivalent of the Golden Rule. Proposition 93 may be proof of its fundamental validity.

Dan Walters (dwalters@sacbee.com) writes for the Sacramento Bee.