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California's Term Limits: Case Study for US Reform

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For the author of Proposition 140, fresh faces, or ''citizen legislators,'' was the answer to gridlock and entrenched incumbents. ''I wanted to end nonsensical, partisan game-playing'' embodied most conspicuously by Speaker of the Assembly Willie L. Brown, says Pete Schabarum, chairman of Citizens for Term Limits and a former Republican Assemblyman.

His plan succeeded. Barely surviving a bruising fight to retain his speakership, Mr. Brown, a 30-year veteran, will be out in 1996. Meanwhile, Mr. Schabarum is hopeful about Assembly newcomers: ''I believe the term-limited folks will take their jobs more seriously and learn them quicker.''

But veteran insiders disagree. Because of a lack of leadership and the inexperience of new members and their staff, policymaking has ground to a halt, say legislators. Assemblyman Katz says novice lawmakers in committees have to ''start from scratch on every issue'' and are ''writing poorly thought-out bills.'' Bureaucrats and lobbyists are stepping in to help write legislation, he adds.

Former California Senate majority leader Barry Keene agrees. A liberal Democrat, Mr. Keene abandoned his seat in 1992 after a 20-year political career in deep frustration with what he felt was an increasingly chaotic statehouse. ''It was painful to see an institution to which I devoted so much of my life floundering and irrelevant,'' he says, sitting in his spare office at Sacramento State University, where he now teaches public policy.

He now divides the legislature into ''lightweights and checkouts,'' or ''those who know and those who don't care.''

Veteran legislators note that new lawmakers seem reluctant to take on issues other than the budget. ''I'm very frustrated. I worry that there's not nearly enough longterm planning and vision work in California,'' says Katz.

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