Vote of No Confidence: How Did We Get Here? The History and Conflicting Ideas of Shared Governance

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Legislative Churn

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Making sense of Sacramento politics is no easy feat. Where else do the Appropriations Committees not actually appropriate? Where else can one move from the second to the third floor, or for that matter from the fourth to the sixth, while remaining on the same level (if you dona��t believe me, visit the Capitol)? Where else do legislative term limits at 12, instead of 14, years create greater longevity and stability?

If your head is already spinning, youa��re not alone. Deciphering the impact of legislative turnover on our institutions and our faculty first requires an historical overview.

California had a citizen part-time legislature until 1966 when voters approved Proposition 1A on the November ballot. With a rapidly growing population, Californians liked the idea of a professionalized full-time body that would devote serious attention to the needs of the day.

The romanticists would deem 1967-1991 as a a�?golden agea�? of state politics, producing such stalwarts as John Vasconcellos, Al Alquist, Bob Campbell, Ken Maddy, Dick Floyd and David Roberti. Whether Democrat or Republican, for the most part, they were serious and productive. With the notable exception of Willie Brown, they were typically white and nearly always male. As one veteran of that era described it, the ability to approve comprehensive policy directly correlated to the selectivity of the clubby, chummy environment.

For community colleges, this was the period of EOPS, CARE, Matriculation and AB 1725. The Master Plan for Higher Education was still sacrosanct with its promise of a no or low-fee college education available to all Californians. No matter the governor, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, George Deukmejian, or Pete Wilson, legislators of this time-frame would protect and promote the role of community colleges. Many of those legislators fully expected their service in the Capitol would span an entire career, subject to the expected confirmation of the voters.

That all changed in 1990 with voter approval of Proposition 140. No longer could legislators serve for decades on end; they would be limited to three two-year terms in the Assembly and four two-year terms in the Senate (cumulative total of 14 years). This dramatic change repudiated the earlier Proposition 1A. By 1990, voters believed the professionalized Legislature disenfranchised them; a citizen body with higher turnover would, as the argument went, a�?reform a system . . . that has given a tiny elite almost limitless power over the lives of Californiaa��s taxpayers and consumers.a�?

If the voters wanted political chaos, they certainly got it. These were the years when it was impossible to keep track of changes without a scorecard. Once legislators took office, particularly in the Assembly, it was expected they would quickly plan their next move. Interest groups like FACCC were often asked to choose a single endorsed candidate for Senate from two adjacent Assemblymembers with identical voting records. The consequence of a wrong guess (I mean decision) could be startling.

According to a 2004 analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), Proposition 140 accelerated the election of more female and minority representatives, but did little to curb political careerism. More fundamentally, the PPIC demonstrated that compared with their pre-term limited cohorts, the post Proposition140 crew screened fewer bills and were less likely to alter the governora��s budget. As the PPIC noted, a�?[f]or a variety of reasons related to term limits, there is more room for fiscal irresponsibility in the Legislature now and less incentive, experience, and leadership to correct it. Term limits also may be weakening legislative oversight of the executive branch. These changes, whether intended or not, are shifting the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of state government.a�?

With such turnover in legislators, ita��s no surprise that there was an equal or greater turnover in legislator attention. Pledges to address specific concerns, like achieving 75/25, honoring the Proposition 98 split, backfilling property tax shortfalls, or compensating part-time faculty, would be made and broken in the blink of an eye. In the absence of legislative continuity, few cared about yesterdaya��s discussions. Community colleges would need to adapt to this whipsaw effect with such long-term policy objectives as the Master Plan for Higher Education taking a back seat.

In 2012, the voters spoke again with Proposition 28, reducing the overall number of legislative years from 14 to 12, but allowing all of them to be served in one house. Since this measure did not apply to anyone who was serving at the time or before, it temporarily created a bifurcated Legislature with Assemblymembers and Senators subject to different rules depending upon when they were first elected (this condition is what exists today).

While Proposition 28 was not intended to return us to the a�?professionalizeda�? legislature of the 1960s, its goal was to restore a modicum of order from chaos; on this pointa��although relatively newa��it appears to be working. Without the pressure to switch offices, legislators are focusing on meeting stakeholders, learning issues, understanding history, and exploring solutions. This has come as a welcome relief for FACCC which has never embraced change for its own sake, but has sought to improve on what has come before while discarding that which does not work.

Decades of experience has taught us that legislative promises require legislator continuity. If The Great Churn is here to stay, it needs to balance historic continuity with dynamic opportunity. Catch me in a decade for a more thorough analysis of Proposition 28 or an explanation of the latest ballot initiative that changed the system once again. In the meantime, get to know your Assemblymember and Senator as they are likely to be around for a while.

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