Few California politicians have been angling for promotion as aggressively and unsuccessfully as state Senator Tom McClintock. The Thousand Oaks uberconservative ran for U.S. Congress in 1992, for state controller in 1994 and 2002, for governor in 2003, and for lieutenant governor in 2006. He lost each time.
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For a guy who has worked tirelessly to extend his political career — 2008 is year 22 for McClintock in the legislature — his new lifeline may come without any effort at all. And the die-hard Republican could owe it all to the machinations of his powerful Democratic rivals Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez of Los Angeles and Senate president pro tempore Don Perata of Oakland — the pair who dreamed up Proposition 93.
It would halt the fast-approaching turnover of the legislature, one-third of which stands to be ejected soon under term limits. Under Prop. 93, the 42 legislators in question could all run for the same jobs again, and in “safe seats” designed to guarantee that they win.
The media have dramatically downplayed this. The Los Angeles Times editorial board, which backs the measure, inexplicably insists that a “handful” of legislators could overstay. And it's not just that these 42 could get more years. They'd get more taxpayer money: salaries of $116,000 (50 percent more than the amount of the next highest state legislature, New York), plus about $30,000 in untaxed income or “per diem,” $500 toward a monthly car lease, (luxury SUVs among the most popular), and free gas — and a pension boost.
It's a nifty package worth roughly $1 million for each legislator given new life under Prop. 93. Among the greatest beneficiaries would be some of the most powerful leaders representing minority Republicans and majority Democrats: Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman of Tustin would get to hang on for 17 years. Republican Assembly Whip Doug LaMalfa of Biggs — set to be ejected this year — could grab another six.
At least 10 of Nunez's handpicked Democratic Assembly committee chairmen and chairwomen — powerful majority members, to whom much of the special-interest money flows in Sacramento — are set to be ousted this year. But those pols, including Patty Berg of Eureka, Mervyn Dymally of Los Angeles, Nicole Parra of Hanford and Lloyd Levine of Van Nuys, could hang on under Prop. 93.
Parra, the chairwoman of the agricultural committee, gave $25,000 to Nunez's effort, and actually argues that she doesn't see a conflict of interest in doing so. “I'm probably the poster child of people who'd say I'd benefit,” Parra says. “It's actually the opposite. To be honest, I might not even run.” Then she adds, “I'd give Fabian [Nunez] more, if I had it!”
Editor's note: This article inaccurately said legislators would get a pension boost under Prop. 93. In fact, one or two legislators would have gotten the boost.
Due to an editing error, the article also stated that California legislators earn twice as much as New York legislators. California legislators earn 50 percent more than legislators in New York.