Steve Poizner, who earned a fortune in the high-tech industry and was elected state insurance commissioner a year ago, pledged Tuesday to raise and spend whatever it takes to defeat the legislative leadership's term-limit measure on the Feb. 5 ballot. In so doing, he enhanced his status as the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2010.
Proposition 93 would modify legislative term limits, passed by voters in 1990, from six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate to a total of 12 years that could be served in either house, allowing Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and other termed-out lawmakers to extend their careers.
Poizner made a rare three-fer political maneuver by taking command of the cash-strapped campaign against Proposition 93, to wit: — By designating himself as the opposition campaign's chief spokesman, he will raise his public profile and bolster whatever ambitions he may harbor for 2010 (for the record, he sidesteps that aspect).
— By pumping $1.5 million of his own money — pocket change, relatively speaking — and pledging to raise millions more from himself and others to "do whatever it takes ... to educate voters" about Proposition 93, he ensures that the opposition campaign will be competitive.
— By denouncing Proposition 93 as "a naked power grab" by Democratic legislative leaders, he will undercut the measure's support among Republican voters, who, polls indicate, believe that it would punish the Legislature.
Poizner flatly predicted that Proposition 93 will "go down in flames," and the measure is already hurting. A Field Poll released last week found that voter support had declined from 59 percent to 49 percent just since August. Any significant erosion of Republican support could spell doom.
Democratic leaders and their allies clearly had hoped that by stressing the measure's change from a 14-year overall limit to 12 years, it would draw support from those who dislike the Legislature.
The strategy initially appeared to be working — helped immensely by a somewhat misleading official ballot summary prepared by Attorney General Jerry Brown's office. But as the measure gained more media attention and as legislative issues such as health care and water stalled, support dwindled.
The skeletal opposition campaign had been seeking a deep-pocket contributor to take advantage of the downward trend. It found its angel in Poizner, who sold his high-tech company for about $1 billion in 2000 and turned his attention to politics.
Poizner and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were the only Republican winners in statewide political contests last year, and while the flamboyant governor and the mild-mannered insurance commissioner are completely dissimilar in personality, they share a centrist ideology.
Poizner headed Schwarzenegger's unsuccessful drive in 2005 to reform legislative and congressional redistricting and says that opposing Proposition 93 stems from the same reformist bent, pointing out that legislative leaders failed to make good on their promises to overhaul redistricting while pushing ahead with a self-serving term-limit change.
Poizner's involvement in the opposition campaign ramps up pressure on Schwarzenegger to follow suit. The governor has said he didn't support loosening term limits but could tolerate it were it part of a package that included redistricting reform — an attitude generally adopted by the state's business community as well.
With the measure's support now declining and Poizner assuming command of the opposition campaign, business groups are reassessing their support of Proposition 93. Schwarzenegger is on the spot, even as he tries to cut deals with Nunez and other Democratic leaders on health care and water.
Reach Dan Walters at email@example.com.