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Term-limiting the Congress would empower lobbyists and cede influence to the executive branch, opponents say.

That has been the experience in California, say many involved in the governing process in Sacramento since the state term-limited its legislature in 1990.

Term-limited lawmakers can’t spend enough time in the legislature to master complex issues. They don’t have a power base and their political skills also are often underdeveloped.

Rather than diminish the power of so-called special interests and make lawmakers more attentive to their constituents, inexperienced lawmakers have leaned on the lobbyists who represent them to write legislation and navigate thorny political challenges.

“I personally witnessed an assembly speaker step out of budget negotiations with the governor to check with a union. Willie Brown never had to do that,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political operative in Sacramento who served as a top adviser to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Brown, who went on to serve as San Francisco mayor, was the legendary California assembly speaker who served from 1980 to 1995. His power was so firm Republicans pushed for the original term limits law partly to dislodge him from his leadership post.

“The 1990s version of California term limits created weak short-term leaders in each chamber because they were always seen as temporary,” Stutzman said. “Consequently, staff and special interests became more powerful.”

President-elect Trump supports amending the Constitution to limit how many terms lawmakers can serve in the House and Senate, and Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said last week that he is open to the idea. It remains unlikely that Congress will agree to neuter its own power.

Voters tend to support the concept. They believe it could diminish the power of interest groups and their advocates — lobbyists — over legislation and the political process make lawmakers more responsive to their constituents.

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In states where it has been tried, the results have been mixed.

In California, it has meant fresh blood in the legislature and an end to powerful entrenched lawmakers. The state budget, the seminal product produced by Sacramento every year, has been completed every year, along with major pieces of far-reaching legislation, just as before term limits.

Dan Walters, a columnist with the Sacramento Bee who has covered the legislature for more than 40 years, said the institution has operated more or less the same post term-limits as it did before the law was passed.

“Did lobbyists gain more power? Not really,” Walters said. “The lobbyists themselves didn’t like term limits because they prefer long-term relationships and disliked having to constantly deal with new players.”

Others disagree with Walters, saying that, in practice, term limits didn’t work out as intended.

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California legislators tend to lack the institutional knowledge of governing in Sacramento to outmaneuver interests groups whose lobbyists have been honing their skills, often for decades.

Term-limited lawmakers also tend to lack the raw political power to stand up to influential advocacy groups, whether on the right or the left.

That has resulted in lawmakers advancing to the chairmanship of top committees in their first legislative term. The same has happened for the top political leaders in each chamber.

In Congress, it can take several years to reach similar heights. In the interim, members develop policy expertise and accrue political power.

But it’s not just the lobbyists that have been elevated by limiting service in the assembly and senate.

Legislative staffers also tend to outlast members of the assembly and state senate.

The result has been inexperienced legislators lean on them for policy and political knowhow, creating yet another community of unelected operators with influence over lawmaking.

“Rather than having your legislative programs be subject to entrenched, lifetime legislators, you actually in many respects have turned a lot of the policy decisions over to entrenched staff people who aren’t elected by the people at all,” Allan Zaremberg, president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce, said.

To attempt to solve the problems of term limits, California in 2012 altered its law.

Term-limits were too popular with voters to scrap. But now, lawmakers in Sacramento can spend up to 12 years in either the assembly or state senate.

The hope is that the changes will discourage ambitious lawmakers from job-hopping to the next office and moving too fast to enact far-reaching legislation, while allowing them to gain expertise and influence.

The original prohibition allowed individuals to serve up to three, two-year terms in the assembly and two, four-year terms in the California senate.

“The reform to allow longer time served in each house allows for longer term speakerships and senate presidencies that should be good for governance,” Stutzman said.

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