Prop. 28 Passes With Flying Colors: How California Legislators Tricked Voters Into Extending Their Term Limits

Update: Philip Blumel with the group U.S. Term Limits tells us Prop. 28 was "the most deceptive referendum that I've ever seen." More at the bottom.

Like Big Oil-backed Prop. 26 in the 2010 election, another disastrous Trojan Horse made its way past California voters last night.

On its surface, Prop. 28 looks like a good-government measure that limits the amount of time politicians can spend in office. Instead of spending a maximum 8 years in the California State Senate and 6 years in the Assembly (for a total of 14 years in the Legislature), pols will now be cut off at 12 years.

But here's the clincher:

They'll be able to spend that time in whichever chamber they please. So instead of having to switch over from the Senate to the Assembly (or vice versa) at the 6- or 8-year mark -- which requires them to win over a new district of voters, find new lobbyists and shift their campaign priorities -- they can sit back, kick up their feet and enjoy incumbency for over a decade. We can just see Alarcon's moustache twitching with glee.

So how did they trick the public into thinking Prop. 28 would keep elected officials honest?

Statewide, the measure won by almost a 2-to-1 ratio. That figure held mostly true in Los Angeles County as well, with 61.5 percent of voters saying yes and only 38.5 percent saying no.

Locally, "No on Prop. 28" ads were scarce. A national group called U.S. Term Limits (USTL) was really the only one fighting it -- and it's tough to shake chilled-out Californians into a state of outrage from all the way over in Virginia.

In an op-ed for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune last week, the org pleaded:

This is just the latest slimy effort by politicians and their special interest supporters to try to fool voters into gutting California's voter-approved term limits law.

Proposition 28 is designed to trick voters into thinking it strengthens terms limits when it does the exact opposite. Prop. 28 actually weakens term limits for state legislators and dramatically lengthens the amount of time politicians can stay in office!

The deceptive proposition was backed by huge developers, including a $400,000 cut from Majestic Realty, who has been working with Sacramento politicians to exempt itself from environmental regulations. Majestic is also looking to build an NFL stadium in the City of Industry. (Their plan is competing against AEG's more publicized proposal for downtown L.A.)

Unsurprisingly, the term-limit changes were introduced by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor under Maria Elena Durazo, the union's all-powerful leader. The Fed has every interest in securing sweetheart deals for construction projects; now, thanks to Prop. 28, they only have to woo one sweetheart.

It's simple: Once you've gotten in bed with a state leader, you want to keep him or her there for as long as possible. That way, your strategic campaign donations can reap maximum rewards.

(Other donors to the Prop. 28 fund, BTW, were Rick Caruso and Eli Broad, two of the biggest names in L.A. real estate. Also, the California Teachers Association, who'll donate to anything and everything it takes to please elected officials and keep them in the union's back pocket.)

Guess there's no use crying over spilled milk. Just something to keep in mind next time you see a doe-eyed ballot measure calling itself something neutral like "Change in Term Limits" -- there's probably a reason it doesn't read "Reduction."

Update: Philip Blumel, head of U.S. Term Limits, says this proposition was so masterfully worded that many groups who might otherwise have gotten involved in the opposition effort just gave up from the start.

"This is the most deceptive referendum that I've ever seen," says Blumel, defeated.

Because there were no special interests that would benefit from keeping term limits where they are, the unions and the developers just blew "the angels and the grassroots" out of the water, he says.

Another reason that politicians like Prop. 28 so much, according to Blumel, is because there are far less seats in the Senate than in the Assembly. It's quite rare and difficult for Assemblymembers to cross over after their 6 years are up -- so Prop. 28 will actually help many of them double their stay in Sacramento.

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