Last fall, California voters approved Prop. 140, an initiative limiting the number of terms a legislator can serve and restricting the amount of money that the legislature can spend on itself. The people who drafted the measure said it would clean up the do-nothing good-old-boy network that dominates the legislature. Most people expected the cleanup to take years. Legislators weren't expected to leave until they had served their legally permitted time in office. But the process may be much shorter than expected. With the notion of term limits catching on nationwide, the results are instructive.
Assembly Majority Floor Leader Tom Hanighan has announced his retirement after his current term. Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Mike Roos is reportedly considering retirement. Assembly Speaker Willie Brown estimates that 40 percent of the Assembly will retire when their terms are up.
Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, a 24-year member best known for pushing the state's much-ridiculed commission on self-esteem, told the Los Angeles Times he may retire before his term expires: "I don't see any point in killing myself for people who apparently don't care if they have decent government or not." The depression has spread to legislative staffs. The Wall Street Journal reports that more than 700 of the legislature's 2,500 staffers are retiring.
Lobbyists grouse that they are losing their "investments"—longtime incumbents who have become attuned to their interests. Jack Carrigan, executive director of the California Commission on Aging, told the Journal that lobbyists will have to "educate" a new batch of politicians.
The establishment isn't taking all this lying down. Speaker Brown, Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti, Senate Minority Leader Kenneth Maddy, the California Teachers Association, and numerous legislators from both parties have filed suit to have the term-limitation initiative overturned.