California’s current term limits allow someone to serve up to three, two-year terms in the 80-seat Assembly and two, four-year terms in the 40-seat Senate, for a total of 14 years. The initiative would reduce the term limit to 12 years but allow legislators to serve it all in one house. Legislators such as Chan who want to move to the Senate after reaching their Assembly term limits often have to sit out for a couple of years and run against former colleagues for the fewer Senate seats that become available. The scramble resembles a political version of musical chairs. Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, also wants Perata’s seat but said she won’t run against him if voters approve the initiative seeking to modify term limits. If it passes, she would be eligible to run again for the Assembly. Supporters say the initiative would increase continuity and reduce the experience drain that hits every two years, particularly in the Assembly. Chan said the current term limits, especially for Assembly members “are way too short.” Robin Johansen, a Lafayette attorney who helped write the initiative, said the authors wanted to maintain some continuity without going too far in relaxing the term limits adopted by voters in 1990. “You have to start somewhere, and you start with a transition with people who are there,” she said. Many lawmakers could have their legislative careers cut short by the initiative, although it would help them avoid the scramble that frequently takes place for seats in the other house. Freshman Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Martinez, is one of them. He would be limited to 12 years in the Legislature instead of 14 if the initiative is approved, but its passage would save him from having to make a difficult decision about what to do next year. He is weighing whether to run for re-election, possibly against Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Martinez, or to seek Torlakson’s Senate seat and face former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, D-Pittsburg, in the Democratic primary. Torlakson is termed out of the Senate next year under the limits but is eligible to run for the Assembly. He could seek one more Senate term if the initiative passes. DeSaulnier said it would be easier for him to run for re-election in the smaller Assembly district, but he doesn’t like the idea of facing Torlakson, one of his closest friends. “Clearly, the reform of term limits is best for public policy,” he said. “Having people go through the contorted thing Tom and I have to do would not be the best public policy.” Richard Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School who specializes in election law, said the initiative’s differing effects on candidates probably would withstand a court challenge. “States can basically set any kind of rational qualification for office,” he said. But the distinctions could make it tougher to convince voters to approve the measure because opponents probably would label it “a sweetheart deal for incumbent legislators,” he added. Meanwhile, candidates inside and outside the Legislature are waiting to see what a new term limits system might hold for them. Christopher Cabaldon, the mayor of West Sacramento, is one of them. He finished second in 2002 in the Democratic primary in the 8th Assembly District, which stretches from Sacramento’s western suburbs to the San Francisco Bay area. Now he’s running for the seat again, assuming incumbent Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, does not. She is scheduled to be termed out in 2008. Aides said Wolk has not yet made a decision about her future. He remains philosophical about his situation. “Uncertainty around the political climate is nothing new to me,” Wolk said. “You can’t stand paralyzed waiting for it all to sort itself out.” SACRAMENTO – Former Assemblywoman Wilma Chan is hoping to survive the musical-chairs game created by California’s term limits and win a state Senate seat next year. She might have to wait a bit longer if an initiative that would alter term limits makes the Feb. 5 ballot. The proposal could thwart the hopes of dozens of other candidates who are planning to run for legislative seats in 2008. At the same time, it could enable some incumbents to remain in office longer. The proposal was revealed last month by political consultants with close ties to Democrats in the Legislature and the governor and is supported by some current lawmakers. Backers expect to begin gathering voter signatures early in April to put it on the ballot next February, when California will hold its presidential primary. Incumbents whose political careers could be extended by the proposal include Senate President pro tem Don Perata, an Oakland Democrat whose seat Chan wants. She said she hasn’t decided whether she’ll challenge Perata in the June 2008 Democratic primary if the initiative passes and Perata runs for another term, as he says he plans to do. “It does create some uncertainty,” said Chan, who was termed out of the Assembly in 2006 and has raised more than $400,000 for a Senate bid. “I have a \ committee. I’ve raised a lot of money. We are just trying to move ahead.” Chan, D-Alameda, is among nearly 90 non-incumbents who have announced their intentions to run for the Legislature in 2008, most of them for the 34 seats that would become vacant without the initiative. They include about 20 former lawmakers who hope to return to the Legislature after being termed out of one house or losing a race for another office.
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