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California's Lockyer Trap

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California's Lockyer Trap

AP

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer prepares to sell $4 billion in general-obligation bonds to help pay for hundreds of stalled construction projects.

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By accounts of leading officials in both parties, the state treasurer, Bill Lockyer, is doing a good job. But he'll be forced from the post by term limits in 2014. So now he's apparently preparing for a run for another statewide office, controller.

The switch exposes two bits of madness in California's governing system: term limits and down-ticket executive offices such as treasurer (the person who sells state bonds) and controller (the person who signs state checks). Together, the combination of term limits and the state's insistence of holding elections for these lesser posts creates a game of political music chairs that produces little for California -- besides corruption.

Officials running for and holding these posts must raise money -- to get elected and then for their future races once they hit their term limits. But the most of the people who are interested enough in these lesser executive posts to give money are people whose business interests are affected by decisions. The result has been a series of pay-to-play scandals involving figures such as Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, and Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush.

The game of musical chairs also has turned Lockyer, one of California's most experienced public servants, into a vagabond. He served as attorney general before term limits forced him to run for treasurer in 2006. In 2014, when he'll be 73, he'll have to run for controller. Perhaps, if he lives long enough, Lockyer can run for superintendent of public instruction in 2022 at age 81, insurance commissioner in 2030 at age 87, lieutenant governor in 2038 at age 95, and secretary of state as a career capper in 2046, when he's 103. (Of course, if you're going to live that long, Bill, you might need to sell more stem cell bonds).

Perhaps by then, he might have the range of experience necessary to become governor. But Lockyer, who was encouraged to run for governor this year, has resisted, noting how hard it is for someone without big name recognition statewide to raise money and compete with better-known politicians. So instead, he plays musical chairs, stuck in California's strange political trap.

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