Willie Brown's eye roves as term limits come in ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

November 08, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

LOS ANGELES -- As term limits continue to be the rage -- voters in Maine and New York City were the latest to impose them on Tuesday -- some unexpected ramifications are being spelled out here in California.

In 1990, when voters here limited the terms of their state legislators, a chief argument was that such a move would clean out deadwood and bring in fresh faces. While that remains the hope when the new law triggers in, it also has set off a game of political musical chairs, with state Assembly members plotting to run for state Senate seats and assemblymen and senators alike considering runs for other public offices.

Assembly members now are limited to three two-year terms and senators to two four-year terms, not counting service prior to 1990. Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti, facing forced departure next year due to special circumstances, has his eye on the state treasurer's job next year, what with fellow Democrat incumbent Kathleen Brown planning to run for governor in 1994. That will clear the path for state Sen. Bill Lockyer to move up to leadership of the Senate.

But Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, who has served 29 years in the lower house and can stay only three more under the term limit law, already is eyeing that job. The current senator from Brown's hometown of San Francisco, Milton Marks, also has to leave the Assembly in 1996 and Brown is considering running for that vacancy and thereafter for the job of Senate president.

If Brown were to succeed, he would become the first legislator to lead both the California Assembly and Senate. Moving over to the Senate, he says, "is the most viable and logical of options for me in 1996. If I had to answer today, the most logical place for me to continue to serve the people of my state would be there."

At the same time, however, Brown says there are statewide races next year -- including the governorship -- that he will have to take a look at. "I'd be out of my mind not to," he says. But he is a creature of the state Legislature and a power there. So the expectation is that he will leave the governor's race to Kathleen Brown, daughter of former Democratic Gov. Pat Brown and sister of former Gov. Jerry Brown, and to John Garamendi, the state insurance commissioner, who are squaring off for a 1994 primary fight for the right to take on incumbent Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

Wilson is regarded as particularly vulnerable as a result of state budget and other woes that have caused his approval rating to slide to 31 percent, according to the latest Los Angeles Times Poll.

Affecting Willie Brown's decision on the governorship, he says, is the crushing defeat suffered this week by Proposition 174, the ballot initiative that would have provided for school vouchers of about $2,600 for any child to attend a private school. Brown claims credit as the leading legislator against the proposition and suggests that the resounding vote will enhance his reputation as Mr. Public Education in the Legislature if he should choose to run for governor.

"I own it," he says of the education issue, citing successful efforts to beat back a proposal by Wilson last year to strip the state budget of $2.2 billion for public education. Brown says he will conduct an "education summit" in February to consider major steps to improve public education in California, once considered the national leader in the field.

But moving over to the state Senate seems more on his mind. When asked why other senators would vote for him as Senate president, if he is elected to that body in 1996, Brown observes that about two-thirds of the Senate consists of men and women "who graduated from the Assembly and served with me or under my leadership. It's not like I would be going into a hostile environment."

If the energetic and flashy 59-year-old Brown were to serve the two four-year Senate terms permissible under the new term-limit law, he would wind up with 40 years of consecutive service in the California Legislature, also believed to be a record. And if the notion is a nose-thumbing gesture to the advocates of term limitations, it would not surprise those who have been accustomed to the assertive style of Willie Brown.

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