Sunday, November 8, 2009

Schwarzenegger and those 'crazy' term limits

Term limits activism is empowering and often thrilling, but there are some repetitive aspects of it that just get downright tedious. Number one on the list is the phenomenon of the politician who runs for office calling for term limits, becomes part of the power structure, and then turns his or her back on term limits and the voters who love them.

Take California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Referring to former state Sen. Jack Scott, the governor recently opined that he “was termed out because we have these crazy term limits here in California and people that are that experienced like him then have to leave and move on.”

No. What’s crazy is thinking that out of 36.7 million people, only the elite political class of individuals are “experienced” enough to hold public office.

In 2003, as a candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger said: “My campaign for governor is based on the concept that California's state government belongs to the people, not the career politicians. As we are now seeing with the state's budget crisis and anti-business policies, it is too easy for the politicians to become disconnected from the people they are supposed to represent. That is why I believe in citizen legislators and yes, even citizen governors. It is also why I am such a strong believer in term limits.”

Funny what a few years in public office does to a politician. In 2008, Schwarzenegger turned against term limits and sided with the political establishment when he endorsed Proposition 93, a ballot measure that, had it not been defeated, would have weakened term limits.

What logic is there in rewarding the very legislators that are leading the state to the brink by extending their terms to allow them to 'serve' more?

In fact, logic requires that we move the opposite direction. California has the highest paid legislators in the country and they work all year 'round. The careerist impulse may have been tempered in California by term limits, but it is not enough. The perks of power are just too sweet for California pols who will clearly do anything to keep their cozy jobs.

Instead, we get claims that are truly crazy: thinking that the political establishment just needs more time to fix the very problems for which its own antics are so glaringly responsible.

Schwarzenegger knew better in 2003. The people of California know better in 2009. And they assuredly will defeat SCA 24—yet another proposed constitutional amendment to weaken term limits—in 2010.

(See my op-ed on this subject in the Oct. 31 edition of the L.A. Times.)