CGS California Term Limit Report

Shane Goldmacher of the Sac Bee‘s Capitol Alert notes the Center for Governmental Studies (CGS) Termed Out: Reforming California’s Legislative Term Limits (pdf), well timed by Sasha Horwitz.

Ed Mendel of the San Diego Tribune‘s Newsblog also has a post on it, as does the California Progress Report, which says:

With well financed campaigns on both sides of Prop 93, it is sure to be used as a reference by both supporters and detractors of the measure and quoted liberally.

I’ve copied the CGS press release on the report below, but first I’ve lifted some of its references to redistricting:

Neutral Impacts [of Term Limits]
• Women’s representation improved, at least in the short term, by about 50 percent in the
Assembly and 200 percent in the Senate, but redistricting and national trends favoring
women in politics may have played a stronger role.
Some observers expected the legislature to place a redistricting reform constitutional amendment on the February 2008 ballot as well, because Governor Schwarzenegger indicated that he would support term limits reform if the issues are linked as a reform package. The legislature did not do so.
Unlike Governor Davis in 2002, Governor Schwarzenegger has indicated his willingness to support term limits as part of a greater political reform package that includes redistricting reform. His support could give the measure greater credibility and likelihood of success; his opposition could doom it.
Term limits created more opportunities for newcomers to enter the legislature, a fact that is undisputed by opponents. From 1990 through 2008, 369 individuals will have served in the legislature compared to 296 for the prior equivalent 18 year period preceding term limits (1970-1988). To be sure, comparisons between different legislative sessions face a number of difficulties. Redistricting, for example, might increase opportunities for newcomers entering in one period and reduce them in another. Diminishing the effect of outside influences requires controlling for as many unique features as possible.

This report compares 1970-88 with 1990-2008 to best control for redistricting effects, which are perhaps the greatest potential threat to the validity of such a model. These two time periods line up propitiously on more than just redistricting characteristics. The redistricting lines of 1971 and 1991 were both drawn by court-ordered, incumbent-blind special masters, while those of 1981 and 2001 were approved by the legislature. Furthermore, in both periods the division of government was similar. The Senate was controlled by Democrats throughout and the Assembly was controlled by Democrats with the exception of 1994-96. The governor was Republican for ten of the 18 years in the 1970-1988 period and 14 of the 18 years in the 1990-2008 period.
While racial diversity has increased, it is still not proportionally representative of the California population. Term limits reform alone will not create truly proportional representation; however, term limits reform in conjunction with fair redistricting should increase the likelihood of this occurring.
According to political scientists Bruce Cain and Thad Kousser, term limits accelerated, but did not cause, the diversification of the legislature. They attribute the process to natural forces and also indicate that the 1991 special masters redistricting was influential in opening up opportunities to minorities by creating more minority-majority districts.
Gender balance has improved in the years since term limits were enacted; however, it is
unlikely that this improvement is solely linked to term limits. Political scientists insist that other factors, such as national political trends and redistricting, are more responsible for women’s gains. For instance, 1992 was the first year term limits had any effect, indirect or otherwise, but it was also the “Year of the Woman” and the year of the incumbent-blind special masters redistricting, which made competitive many formerly safe seats held by incumbents. Without the benefit of term limits, women in the California congressional delegation dramatically increased their representation from 6.4 percent in 1990 to 38.2 percent today.
Several interviewees suggest that gerrymandered district lines explain this nearsighted focus. The 2001 redistricting maps were designed to create safe seats for the two major parties. A major consequence of this calculus is that incumbents only face serious challenges during the primary. Members, wary of a primary battle that could cost them their seat, find they have to churn out “brochure bills” to appeal to primary constituents and discourage challengers.
Governor Schwarzenegger has said that will not support Proposition 93 unless the legislature also places reasonable redistricting reform on the February 2008 ballot. At this date the legislature has not done so. This and other factors may make passage of term limits reform more difficult in February 2008.



November 19, 2007 Sasha Horwitz, (310) 470-6590, ext. 104

Robert Stern, (310) 470-6590, ext. 117

Tracy Westen (310) 470-6590, ext. 114

The Good the Bad and the Ugly of Term Limits in California

New CGS Report Debunks Myths about Term Limits

Los Angeles, CA . . . The Center for Governmental Studies (CGS) today released Termed Out: Reforming California’s Legislative Term Limits, a comprehensive analysis of California’s 17-year experiment with term limits and the upcoming ballot initiative to reform them. Termed Out finds that California’s current six-year Assembly and eight-year Senate term limits have had both good and bad consequences.

It concludes that Proposition 93 on the February 2008 ballot, which would allow legislators to serve up to 12 years in either house, would improve legislative expertise and strengthen legislative oversight of the executive branch and administrative agencies, but it would also allow 85% of incumbent Senators to stay in office beyond the current 14 year limit.

“The good news is term limits have made the California legislature more representative of California,” said Robert Stern, CGS President. “The bad news is that the legislature has less experience and engages in less oversight of the executive branch.”

Termed Out finds that California’s existing term limits have improved the racial composition of the legislature, which now closely reflects the voting population of California. The percentage of whites, African-Americans and Asian & Pacific Islanders in the legislature is almost the same as the percentage that vote in California, while the number of Latino legislators is 7.1% higher than their voting population. Despite these gains, however, the legislature still does not accurately reflect the racial composition of California’s entire population.

This report notes that term limits have reduced legislative expertise and shifted the balance of power to the executive branch. On the other hand, term limits have not increased the power of lobbyists, since new legislators often view them with suspicion during their early years in office.

Prop. 93 would change term limits in two ways: it would increase the time legislators could spend in each chamber (from six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate, to 12 years in either), and it would decrease the total time legislators could spend in both chambers combined (from 14 to 12 years). Termed Out predicts that Prop. 93 would:

· Improve legislative oversight of administrative agencies and the executive branch.

· Increase legislators’ expertise in both chambers.

· Reduce opportunities for newcomers to enter the legislature.

· Have no effect on the quality of legislation produced.

In addition to changing term limits, the initiative would make it possible for some legislators—38 Senators and three Assemblymembers—to serve longer than they can under the current 14-year limits. Some of those could serve up to 20 years, and Senator Tom McClintock could serve 26 years because he was in office before the term limits law was passed in 1990.

Termed Out recommends increasing the time a legislator may serve in either house to 12 years, but it expresses reservations about the provision in Prop. 93 that allows current legislators to serve more than 12 years. CGS takes no overall position on the initiative.

The Center for Governmental Studies (CGS) creates innovative political and media solutions to help individuals participate more effectively in their communities and governments. CGS uses research, advocacy, information technology and education to improve the fairness of governmental policies and processes, empower the underserved to participate more effectively in their communities, improve communication between voters and candidates for office, and help implement effective public policy reforms.

Termed Out and other CGS reports on California governance are available on the CGS website, Funding for this report was made possible by generous grants from the James Irvine Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York. The views in the study do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Irvine Foundation or Carnegie Corporation, and they are not responsible for any of the statements or views in the report.

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