The pitch to California voters was wrong in claiming that imposing legislative term limits would replace career politicians with "citizen legislators" who would serve at the Capitol and then return home to resume private careers, according to a new study.
Most lawmakers who left the Assembly and Senate in 2008 continued to work in public sector jobs, mirroring results from 1990, the year that term limits were imposed, the Center for Governmental Studies found.
"A majority of state legislators stay in government and simply move to other elected offices," said Tracy Westen, chief executive officer of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Los Angeles research group.
The study concluded by recommending that California modify its term limits from a maximum 14 years to 12 years, but allow all to be served in one house of the Legislature.
The lifetime ban against termed-out lawmakers returning to the Legislature also should be modified, perhaps allowing former members to seek office again four years after their departure, the study said.
Sixty percent of Assembly members who left the Capitol in 2008 remained in public-sector appointed or elected positions. The same percentage remained public sector employees after leaving between 1980 and 1990, the study found.
Among state senators, the percentage of departing lawmakers who remained in public sector positions was 40 percent in 2008, higher than the 30 percent between 1980 and 1990.
Sponsored by the James Irvine Foundation, the study found that the median age of lawmakers under term limits has not changed -- 57 in both 1990 and 2010 -- but the number of legislators in their 50s and 60s has risen while the number of members in their 20s and 30s and their 70s and 80s has decreased.
The Legislature is more diverse now than it was 20 years ago. Redrawing of legislative districts was the driving factor, but turnover accelerated by term limits enabled change to occur more quickly, the study found.
Sixty-three percent of California legislators were Caucasian last year, compared to 23 percent Latino, 8 percent African American, and 6 percent Asian, the study said.
Lawmakers today have less state legislative experience than their predecessors in 1990, which has "produced a Legislature that is more dependent on the expertise of lobbyists and staff and weaker in its relationships with the executive branch," the study said.
The opposite is true for local government experience: Far more legislators serving at the Capitol in 2010 had previous experience as local government officeholders than existed in 1990 - 70 percent in the Senate and 68 percent in the Senate last year, compared to 35 percent and 28 percent, respectively, two decades ago.