There was a special election in Los Angeles County last week. Didn’t know? Didn’t vote? Didn’t care? Well, you’re in the majority. Less than 9% of registered voters in the 54th Assembly District bothered to show up at the polls or mail in ballots. Angelenos, a generally disunited bunch, coalesced around apathy. But what does it say about us that the one thing we can agree on is indifference? The appalling turnout last week is a symptom of a much larger problem. Why did we even have a special election Dec. 3 in this district that includes Westwood, Ladera Heights, Culver City, Mar Vista and other neighborhoods in west and southwest Los Angeles? It was held to replace former Assemblywoman and current state Sen. Holly Mitchell. Thanks to term limits, which were enacted as a political “reform,” politicians in Los Angeles and California play an endless game of musical chairs, hopping from one elected office to another, sometimes in the middle of their terms.
Under the original term-limit law, legislators could serve a maximum of three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the state Senate, for a total of 14 years in the Legislature. A revision to the law passed last year allows legislators to serve a total of 12 years in the Legislature, with no restrictions on which house or houses the years are served in.
In the city of Los Angeles, council members are limited to three four-year terms, for a total of 12 years.
This has left us with a system in which elected officials are always positioning themselves for their next run rather than focusing fully on the job they have been elected to do. Legislators with knowledge and expertise are forced out of jobs where they are effective, and taxpayers end up spending a significant amount of money on special elections. Each time we call one of these low-turnout special elections to fill a seat vacated by a politician just elected to a new post, voter guides and ballots have to be printed and poll workers paid. Costs can be near $1 million per election.