Election Section

Calif. term limit extension qualifies for March ballot

By Steve Lawrence The Associated Press
Wednesday October 24, 2001

SACRAMENTO — California voters will be asked next March if they want to extent the term limits they imposed on their state legislators 11 years ago. 

An initiative allowing lawmakers to serve up to four more years if enough voters sign petitions backing the move received enough signatures to qualify for the March 5 ballot, elections officials said Tuesday. 

The measure, a constitutional amendment backed by key lawmakers and a wide range of interest groups, got signatures from more than 738,000 voters. It needed at least 670,816 to qualify. 

Currently, lawmakers can serve up to three two-year terms in the state Assembly and two four-year terms in the state Senate, although those limits can be stretched if someone is elected initially to fill a midterm vacancy. 

The initiative would allow a senator to seek one more term and an Assembly member to run for two more if enough voters in their districts sign petitions backing the extension. 

The number of signatures would have to equal at least 20 percent of the votes cast for that office in the previous general election. 

The measure’s supporters say it would allow a few popular lawmakers to stay in office and provide the Legislature with the experience it often lacks now. 

“What we have in California now is a Legislature of rookies, and rookies don’t do as good a job and experience does matter,” said Karen Caves, a spokeswoman for the initiative’s supporters. 

But term-limit supporters say that virtually every lawmaker will be able to gather the required signatures because of their ability to raise money to pay for signature collectors. 

A Field Institute poll released earlier this month found that half of the voters surveyed said they were inclined to support the initiative and 44 percent said they were opposed. 

A vote for the measure could trigger similar efforts in other states, observers say. 

The campaign fight over the proposal could be an expensive one. Supporters have already raised more than $1 million. 

Much of the money has come in five-figure donations from some of the Capitol’s biggest campaign donors, including the cable television industry, liquor interests, card parlors, insurers and groups representing teachers, carpenters, prison guards and attorneys. 

“We have a broad base of support, from firefighters to teachers to the business community to senior and consumer groups,” said Caves. 

Representatives of U.S. Term Limits, a national group opposing the measure, did not immediately return telephone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.