A standing-room only crowd turned out in Sacramento today to listen to a panel discussion featuring what passes for an all-star crowd in the state capital: Pete Wilson, Willie Brown, John Burton, Jim Brulte and Fabian Nuñez.
The event was sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California, and the subject was "Restoring Confidence in the Legislative Process." It was timed to coincide with the release of a new PPIC publication on legislative reform.
Every person on the panel, Republicans and Democrats, said they believe that lengthening term limits would improve the legislative process. Perhaps the best justification for this belief was offered by Brulte, the former Republican Senate leader. He noted that everyone in his generation understands why only Richard Nixon was positioned to restore U.S. relations with China: because throughout his career he had established himself as a tough crusader against communism.
Under term limits, Brulte said, no legislator in California is around long enough to build up sufficient trust with constituents to take bold action. "You have to be around long enough to establish your bona fides with constituents so you can say no to them."
What that means is that no California legislator today has enough credibility with liberals to say, for instance, that conditions in a given school district have deteriorated so badly that it makes sense to experiment with private-school vouchers. And that no legislator today has enough credibility with conservatives to say that the state's financial condition is so grave that it makes sense to enact a temporary tax increase.
The best leaders, Brulte said, are the ones who can occasionally say no to their friends.