With another proposal to tinker with Legislature service allowances on the June ballot, The Times caught up recently with former longtime Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum. The blunt-spoken Republican won fans and foes when he upended state government with his 1990 ballot measure imposing limits on how long state politicians can stay in office. Several local governments and some other states soon followed suit.
Reached at his home in the desert community of Indian Wells, Schabarum said he had hoped his measure would encourage a new breed of “citizen legislator” who would serve the state for a short period of time and then return to private life, giving others opportunities to bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to government.
Instead, many elected officials who want careers in politics engage in a near-constant rotation among posts.
“The guys and gals who are seeking office are always looking beyond where they land for the next jump,” Schabarum said. “They spend most of their time in office looking for their next job.”
What would he do differently if he’d know then what he knows now?
“I probably would have provided longer timelines but not made it so they could bounce around from one house [of the Legislature] to another.”
Will he vote for a measure on the June 5 ballot that would shorten a legislator’s allowance from 14 years to 12?
“We’ll see,” replied Schabarum, 83.
He blames the “quality of the people in the Legislature” for the state’s political gridlock and other problems, not term limits, as some have suggested.
Schabarum, who served in the Assembly before joining the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, left office in 1991 after a protracted court fight over the redrawing of political districts. His seat was placed in a new, strongly Latino district, and he was succeeded by Supervisor Gloria Molina.
Widowed nearly five years ago after 48 years of marriage and rendered legally blind by a degenerative eye disease, the man who once anchored a three-two conservative Republican majority on the powerful Board of Supervisors spends his time traveling with friends and keeping up with politics.
Schabarum said he approved of voters’ stripping from legislators the once-a-decade job of adjusting political districts and putting it in the hands of an independent citizens commission, although he thinks the commission “didn’t do the quality job it was intended to do.”
Schabarum likes another voter-approved change, the open or “top two” primary system, in which all voters in a district get the same ballot and the first-and second-place primary finishers advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
“I think it’s worth a try,” Schabarum said. “The theory is it’s going to get rid of radicals on the left and the right and bring more moderate persons to the fore. We’ll see.”
-- Jean Merl
Photo: Pete Schabarum at a 1989 Board of Supervisors meeting. Credit: Los Angeles Times