Sacramento – U.S. Term Limits, the nation’s leading term limits advocacy organization, today filed suit in Sacramento County Superior Court against California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s blatantly misleading and biased Title and Summary for the initiative sponsored by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata to dramatically weaken California’s term limits law for state legislators.
Jeremy Johnson, Director of State Government Affairs for U.S. Term Limits, described the initiative as a "politicians’ scam" and "the most cynical, arrogant and dishonest attempt yet to thwart the will of the voters" by trying to fool the electorate into weakening term limits. Johnson cited Brown’s Title and Summary for the initiative as part of this effort as it disregards the facts to wrongly claim the initiative "reduces" terms for legislators when it actually dramatically increases politicians’ terms.
The Petition for a Writ of Mandate seeks to have the current Title and Summary withdrawn and a new one prepared that actually complies with the California Elections Code. State law requires the Attorney General’s office to prepare a brief description, not to exceed 100 words, of any proposed statewide ballot measure. Section 9051 of the Elections Code states that "the Attorney General shall give a true and impartial statement of the purpose of the measure in such language that the ballot title shall neither be an argument, nor likely to create prejudice, for or against the measure."
But as Attorney-At-Law Eric Grant, legal counsel in this suit for U.S. Term Limits explained, "any fair observer can see that the Attorney General did not comply with the law, but instead issued a Title and Summary that is grossly misleading, biased and slanted to the wishes of legislative leaders. The result can only mislead the public into thinking that a vote for an initiative which unquestionably weakens California’s term limits law is actually a vote to strengthen term limits. The very integrity of California’s initiative process is being called into question by Attorney General Jerry Brown’s apparent effort to curry favor with Senator Perata and Speaker Nunez."
The AG’s Title and Summary claims that the Perata/Nunez initiative "reduces" terms for legislators despite the facts:
- Legislative term limits for Assembly Members would be doubled – from 6 years to 12 years – and increased by 50% – from 8 years to 12 years – for Senators.
- 24 sitting Assembly Members – including Speaker Nunez – a total of 30% of the Assembly – are termed out next year under existing law and barred from seeking re-election. Under the initiative they could hold office another six years – and Nunez could be Speaker until 2014.
- 18 sitting Senators – including Senate President Perata – a total of 45% of the Senate – are barred from seeking re-election under existing law but would be able to hold office for an additional 4 years under the initiative.
- The initiative contains a special loophole for powerful incumbents that allows numerous legislators, including Senator Perata, to avoid the initiative’s new lifetime limit of 12 years in the Legislature and even exceed the existing law’s limit of 14 years.
- The initiative’s self-serving loophole for incumbent politicians would allow Senator Perata, as well as Senators Torlakson, Scott, Kuehl and Vincent to have served 16 years total in both houses of the Legislature; Senators Ackerman and Margett to be able to have served 17 years; Senators Machado and Battin, 18 years; Assemblywoman Karnette, 20 years and Senator McClintock, 26 years.
- Only a small number of legislators – 11% – have actually served the entire theoretical 14 year limit allowed under current law and any "reduction" in terms is largely hypothetical. Many, many more politicians would have their terms dramatically lengthened under the Perata/Nunez initiative.
Attorney Grant cited a polling analysis by the Survey and Research Institute of San Jose State University which declared that, "If (voters) see this measure as a way for legislators to lengthen their terms, it’s likely to fail. If they see the measure as a further limit on legislative terms, it stands a chance of passing. It all comes down to how the message is framed."
Grant continued, "In this light, the first and most crucial violation of the Elections Code comes in the very first word of the Title and Summary. That word – "Reduces" – inaccurately and prejudicially implies that legislative terms would be shortened. Moreover, the title and summary does not state the current limit on terms at all. That’s because, in fact, legislative term limits would be doubled for Assembly Members and increased by 50% for Senators."
Martha Montelongo, California Coordinator for U.S. Term Limits, cited the explosion in the number of women, Latinos, and other minorities elected to the Legislature because of California’s term limits law and criticized Nunez and other incumbent politicians who have benefited from term limits for "selfishly wanting to pull up the draw bridge and preventing others from sharing in the opportunities that term limits has created for all Californians to participate in the political process."