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The Trouble With Term Limits

Monday, Jul. 25, 2011

Term limits are a perennial topic in California, with strong voices for and against limiting the time an elected official may hold office. But the latest study by the Center for Governmental Studies (CGS) says “term limits force California legislators to take their expertise to other government offices, not keep it in the state legislature.”

The report, “Citizen Legislators or Political Musical Chairs? Term Limits in California,” says the 1990 move to limit legislators to a specified term was intended to create “citizen legislators” who would go back to the private sector upon completing their service. What has happened, according to CGS research, is that most state legislators go on to other kinds of elective office, creating “an ongoing cycle of ‘political musical chairs’ in which many California legislators seek other government positions, even before they are termed out.”

A statewide measure, expected to be on the June 2012 ballot, would seek to revise the current limits by reducing the total time from 14 to 12 years, but allowing all 12 years be served in the same office.

According to Bob Stern, president of the non-profit CGS, the proposed revisions would give legislators more experience in office and “increase the institutional memory of the legislature.”

The report looks at term limits from an historical perspective, and also includes findings on age, race, gender, experience, and educational diversity among California legislators.

Share your thoughts here – should term limits remain in place or did the intentions of the proponents cause more harm than good?

Tags: California, Center for Governmental Studies, elections, term limits

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