Public Comment

Commentary: Progressives Must Reject Proposition 93

By Randy Shaw
Tuesday January 29, 2008

Recent weeks have seen television ads and mailers from a broad list of progressive groups and politicians urging a yes vote on Prop. 93, which revises the state’s term limits law. Progressive groups who work at the state level have little choice but to back a measure designed to keep the current Democratic leadership in place, and Prop. 93’s passage will enable some progressive legislators to extend their careers. But Prop. 93 is a disaster for progressive interests. 

Its primary impact is twofold. First, it would keep the politically ineffective and non-progressive Democratic leadership team of Fabian Nuñez and Don Perata in place for another four years. Second, Prop. 93’s passage would enable Gov. Schwarzenegger to continue to escape blame for the state’s fiscal problems, as Nuñez and Perata have proved incapable of rallying broad public support against the governor’s agenda. New leadership in Sacramento requires Prop. 93’s defeat. 

Although Republicans were the driving force behind passage of California’s term-limits law, the measure has not furthered conservative interests. To the contrary, the California legislature has become more progressive since term limits took effect in 1996. 

Despite making a colossal mess of the state’s economy, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s popularity ratings have not fallen to Bush levels. The reason the governor has escaped being the target of popular rage is less his celebrity than the incompetence of the Democrats legislative leadership. 

And the entire reason Prop. 93 is on the ballot is to give these leaders another four to six years. 

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez came to power due to the backing of organized labor, particularly UNITE HERE. He has rewarded labor and UNITE HERE’s support by backing the anti-union Indian gaming compacts that are now before the voters in Props 94-97. 

Nuñez has made a series of deals with Schwarzenegger aimed at continuing the speaker’s political career through Prop. 93’s passage. Nuñez even got the governor to endorse Prop. 93—which speaks volumes as to the measures’ non-progressive impact. 

Nuñez was a shining progressive star when becoming speaker, but his deal with the governor on Indian gaming, his betrayals of unions, and his widely-publicized and questionable use of campaign funds for junkets and high-priced meals have left him incapable of rallying Californians for progressive causes. 

Why in the world would any progressive vote to give Nuñez another six years as Speaker? 

Unlike Nuñez, Democratic Senate leader Don Perata never had progressive credentials. Perata’s entire political career has been designed to keep him in power, and Prop. 93 would give him four more years even though he has served in the State Senate since 1998. 

Perata has done nothing to justify the voters giving him another four years in leadership. 

And having worked on tenant issues at the state level under Democratic Senate leaders Lockyer, Perata and Burton, I have seen firsthand how leadership makes a tremendous difference. 

Tenant measures that went nowhere under Lockyer became law under Burton. And after Burton was termed out and Perata came in, tenant issues again became politically difficult. 

Burton’s departure highlights the critical political context of Prop. 93. If extending term limits kept a solid and productive progressive like Burton in power, I would be all for it. 

But Prop. 93 keeps politically bankrupt leadership in power, at a time when new leadership is needed to build public opposition to the Schwarzenegger agenda. 

Locally, term limits would give Perata another four years and Assemblymember Loni Hancock another six. 

Neither of these longtime politicians have anything new to offer. Nor do they represent the forces of “change.” 

It is not clear who will be elected to replace Hancock, but former Oakland Assemblymember Wilma Chan would be the favorite to replace Perata in the State Senate (Hancock is her chief opponent). Chan would represent quite an upgrade for progressives. 

So ignore the fact that Republicans are leading the opposition to Prop. 93, and that the Democratic Establishment is its chief backer. Prop. 93 will setback progressive change at the state level for years, and must be defeated. 


Randy Shaw is the editor of