- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s not every day that a term-limits measure manages to prolong the political careers of top state legislators, but such is the case with California’s Proposition 93.

The initiative, which goes before voters Tuesday, would reduce the number of years elected officials can spend in the state Assembly and Senate from 14 years to 12 years.

Legislators also would be permitted to spend their entire careers in one house, instead of being forced to split their 12 years in office between houses.

That’s not what bothers U.S. Term Limits, a group that opposes so-called “career” politicians. The proposal also includes a “transition period” that would allow 42 current legislators to rewind the clock on their political careers, giving them as many as 18 years in office.

Of the 42, 34 are lame-duck officeholders who otherwise would be forced out at the end of the year. They include the top legislative leaders in both houses, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata.

If Proposition 93 passes, Mr. Nunez would be able to serve for another six years, and Mr. Perata another four years.

The two spearheaded the drive to move California’s presidential primary from June to Feb. 5. Critics say the move had less to do with giving California a bigger role in the presidential-selection process than ensuring that otherwise term-limited legislators would be able to file for re-election by the March deadline.

“This isn’t about term limits — it’s about this current class of legislators and how to extend their careers,” said Kevin Spillane, spokesman for the “No on 93” campaign.

The measure’s backers insist the “transition period” does nothing more than allow the law to be applied equally.

“Proposition 93 really isn’t about one particular legislator or another; it’s about long-term, systemic reform,” said Richard Stapler, spokesman for the Committee for Term Limits and Legislative Reform, the “Yes on 93” campaign.

Still, qualms about the ulterior motives of state lawmakers appear to be pulling down the measure’s numbers. Proposition 93 was leading in the polls until a few weeks ago, when a rash of surveys showed the proposal dropping into a statistical dead heat.

A Field Poll survey released Jan. 24 found support for Proposition 93 dipping from 50 percent in December to 39 percent a month later. The poll shows voters now evenly split, with 39 percent favoring the measure and 39 percent opposing it.

In the Yes on 93 campaign’s favor is its war chest. The group has raised more than $14 million, including five-figure contributions from at least eight state legislators, and is expected to outspend the opposition by a margin of at least 2-to-1.

The California Term Limits Defense Fund also may benefit from the support of the state’s most popular elected official, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who endorsed the measure three weeks ago and now appears in its statewide campaign ads.

Mr. Schwarzenegger argues that allowing legislators to serve their careers in one house will give them experience needed to deal with the state’s “extraordinarily complex issues.”

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