California Election After-Thoughts

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

California’s polls have been closed almost three hours, with the voters rendering judgment over a lose-lose choice. On the five budget-balancing (well, not even balancing…call it juggling) propositions, voters ruled that the chaos of the unknown is preferable to the shell-game offered by the state’s elected leadership. The margins are running between 40-60 and 37-63. The only the measure to pass prohibits politicians from voting themselves raises during years running deficit budgets. That one is up 77-23.

Our state has been ungovernable for a decade, maybe two. The reasons include a hodgepodge of ballot propositions, and term-limits. The first takes away the legislature’s flexibility in fashioning a budget. The second takes away their incentive to do so. Since reelection beyond a second term is denied them, they have very little reason to go the extra mile. Then, since the legislators as a group are transitory, the savvy movers-and-shakers come from the armies of staffers and lobbyists who never find themselves termed out. The end result is a legislature that busies itself fiddling while California burns.

Today’s Prop 1F, therefore, while it’s a feel-good “Take that!” for the voters, does nothing to solve our problems. Many of the suggestions I hear do no better. For example, denying legislators’ their salaries during periods when the state enters a budget year without a new budget sounds good, but provides insufficient leverage.

However, what if we did away with term limits, but replaced them with a stipulation that anytime the legislature failed to approve a version of a budget by the deadline, no member of that legislature could appear on the ballot at the next election? I would even let members run write-in campaigns to retain their seats, or return to office after sitting out a term.

Term limits have not given us better government. Neither has government by ballot proposition. We need a legislature that functions well enough to erase the need for ballot propositions. We want to reward good service, and penalize poor service. We want to overcome the tendency for a senate or assembly seat to become a lifetime appointment. We want to provide the incentive for our legislators to sweat a little on our behalf, and level the playing field for a challenger when the incumbent’s performance has fallen short. I believe my proposal would be a step in that direction.

Posted by Brian at 10:42 PM  

3 comments:

We need term limits for the lobbyists!

serapio said...
May 20, 2009 at 10:40 AM  

Ah Serapio, the list of terms I've heard for lobbyists seems unlimited, but like death and taxes, they will always be with us. But while some of the terms may be bad, not all of the lobbyists are. Every citizen or group of citizens should have the right to hire a lobbyist. We just need to keep it clear who the lobbyists are working for, and who the legislators are working for, and make sure that the ones working for all the people have the upper hand.

Brian said...
May 20, 2009 at 7:06 PM  

The key reform we need is a reduction in the majority needed to pass a budget. As long as a minority can veto the budget, we'll have budgets that don't work. This is especially true when the minority party is incapable of compromise.

You can't blame the legislature for not passing budgets when the rules make that impossible.

Devin Carroll said...
May 23, 2009 at 9:20 PM  

Post a Comment