There is plenty to criticize about term limits, but say one thing for them: they bring new faces to politics and put old faces in new places.
While most of the figures who will face off in November for major state offices are not completely new, they are surely getting a thorough shuffle.
The tickets both major parties chose in this month’s primary election feature a host of candidates who did just fine in their old jobs and would have been perfectly happy to stay on, but can’t because they’ve already spent six or eight years in the same old chair.
What’s more, without term limits there would surely not be today’s slew of open seats in the major offices.
You can bet, for instance, that Democrats Cruz Bustamante and John Garamendi would not want to switch jobs next January if they didn’t have to go somewhere.
Garamendi, with two terms as insurance commissioner under his belt – the terms separated by eight years – especially exudes a sense of not feeling he’s really finished the job. His rules for downgrading the significance of ZIP code ratings in the pricing of car insurance, for example, are not yet final and might not be before he leaves office. Would Bustamante, soon to be termed out as lieutenant governor, or his Republican rival Steve Poizner, keep Garamendi’s proposed new rules intact or make some changes?
Bustamante declined to answer that question, but Poizner hinted he might do some tinkering, at least. “ZIP code boundaries are very arbitrary,” he said. “People in similar neighborhoods on two sides of an artificial boundary should not pay vastly different rates.”
Would Garamendi or Republican rival Tom McClintock, a longtime conservative state senator also being termed out, be a more active lieutenant governor than Bustamante, best known for handing out Thanksgiving turkeys, issuing press releases and running poorly as a replacement candidate in the 2003 recall election?
Garamendi says yes. “There’s a good chance Arnold Schwarzenegger will be re-elected governor and we will need a Democrat in position to speak out and speak up,” he said. “The lieutenant governor has a bully pulpit. All that’s needed is the will to use it.” He says he has that will, and no one doubts McClintock does.
Then there are two-term Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown and Republican state Sen. Chuck Poochigian of Fresno, vying for the attorney general’s post Democrat Bill Lockyer must vacate. For sure, the termed-out conservative Poochigian would not likely continue some of Lockyer’s consumerist initiatives, while Brown – a former one-term secretary of state and two-term governor – remains as iconoclastic and unpredictable as ever.
Republican Secretary of State Bruce McPherson of Santa Cruz would simply be an out-of-office legislator going for a different office, except that Schwarzenegger appointed him to the job when Democrat Kevin Shelley was forced to resign in disgrace. He will face termed-out Democratic state Sen. Debra Bowen of Marina del Rey in a race sure to focus on McPherson’s certifying several types of electronic voting machines widely believed vulnerable to computer hackers. Bowen also has excoriated him for setting up a voter registration system that has disqualified thousands of bona fide citizens.
Lockyer, meanwhile, seeks to move into the ordinarily sleepy office of state treasurer, which Democrat Phil Angelides enlivened a bit while using it as a base for his run for governor. You can bet he’d prefer to stay on as attorney general, but term limits make no exceptions.
Less sleepy is the state controller’s office, home the last four years to Democrat Steve Westly, who also tried to use it as a stepping-stone to higher office. Another termed-out Democrat now wants this job, as Board of Equalization member John Chiang goes against former Republican Assemblyman Tony Strickland of Moorpark in a classic liberal vs. conservative battle. Chiang might try to use the office to wage consumerist fights against high gasoline prices, while Strickland would do little or nothing of the kind.
The only thing certain about all these races is that without term limits, none would look anything like it does today.