Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Sacramento Shuffle

Today's story in the Daily News regarding the race between Assemblymember Lloyd Levine and former Assemblymember Fran Pavley to succeed termed-out Senator Sheila Kuehl, who represents the 23rd District, sent me on the Wayback Machine to 2000. Senator Tom Hayden (remember him?) was terming out, and then-Assemblymembers Sheila Kuehl and Wally Knox - colleagues and friends - were vying to replace him.

During the campaign, Knox positioned himself as the parochial candidate with an eye on his district's best interest, even if that went against his party leadership. He had led the fight against breaking up the 310 area code (a huge issue at the time) and pushed for improvements to the 101-405 interchange. He promised to continue to look out for his constituents first and foremost.

Kuehl was viewed as more of a power player, serving as Speaker Pro Tem at the time. (She was the first woman to ever hold that position.) She stressed her belief that being at the leadership table gave her more clout to serve her constituents. Some viewed her as having taken on tougher issues than Knox, such as nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, during her time in the Assembly.

While I knew the district would be served well by either candidate, I was pulling for Knox, as I had friends on his staff with whom I had worked during my time as a field deputy for an LA City Councilmember. (For the record, Kuehl's staff was - and remains - professional and easy to reach.) Ultimately though, Kuehl beat out Knox and continued to show her skills as an effective and tenacious legislator in the Senate.

The district's residents won because they elected someone who would go on to serve them with intelligence, grace, and passion. But ultimately, they also lost, because Wally Knox - a good and honest public servant - was unable to continue to serve in the Legislature due to term limits.

This is but one concrete example of why I am opposed to term limits, which artificially assure the electorate that they are in control of politicians because they can only serve for a set number of years. In reality, term limits give voters a sense of complacency. Too many voters believe that since even an inept elected official will eventually be termed out, there isn't any need to be overly involved with the political process.

Term limits drain institutional knowledge, giving immense power to lobbyists who have more time in the Capitol under their belts than most legislators. Term limits turn elections into convoluted games of musical chairs, replete with seat swapping and back-room deals regarding who will run for which office. Term limits prevent talented, committed people from continuing on in positions that allow them to improve our communities by enacting thoughtful, sensible, and effective public policy.

In any other field, terms limits would seem crazy. Imagine becoming a teacher and being told that you'd have to pick a different profession after eight years. Imagine developing a relationship with your doctor, only to be told you'd have to find a new one in six years, even if she did a great job and you wanted her to remain your doctor.

Term limits already existed long before they were called such, through regularly scheduled elections. The problems is not, and never has been, that elected officials serve too long; it is that the campaign finance system overwhelmingly benefits incumbents and corrupts the political process. We'd be much better served if we committed more resources to real campaign finance reform instead of trying to prevent genuinely dedicated people from serving the public for any prolonged period of time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was indeed a shame to lose Wally Knox, a fine public servant.

But the biggest difference between the match-up between Kuehl and Knox and Pavley v. Levine is glaring: Lloyd Levine is not a Wally Knox.

Knox was a committed community activist and public servant, who was actively engaged in our schools, community colleges, Jewish community, and civil rights community who fought for working families.

Lloyd Levine is a nice guy, but he's just another political hack with very little connection to the district -- which runs from the valley over the hill to the Westside and Santa Monica. He doesn't have a connection to the community or community activities.