When Californians voted in 1990 to drastically limit how long their state representatives could stay in office, critics predicted a Legislature filled with politicians too green and too focused on their next career move to tackle complex problems. Those concerns will be put to the test like never before Monday, when a new class is sworn representing the most sweeping turnover in the Legislature since it went full time in 1966. In one fell swoop, 36 new members will join the Assembly, just shy of half its total 80 members. Twelve of 40 state senators are first-termers; all but one moved over from the Assembly, where members can stay only six years. The newcomers include Democrats Charles Calderon of Whittier, a former state senator, and Artesia City Councilman Tony Mendoza. They arrive as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is about to unveil an agenda that would test even the most battle-hardened legislator: overhauling health care, reforming prisons and dealing with a $5 billion budget deficit, to name just a few big-ticket items. “Imagine fielding a professional sports team where just about half the players were rookies,” said Tim Hodson, director of the Center for California Studies at Cal State Sacramento. “You would not expect the team to make the playoffs. Not necessarily because of lack of talent, but because of lack of experience.” The incoming members by and large aren’t new to government. Many are well regarded city council members, county supervisors and school board members. “I have to believe every freshman who walks in the Capitol is going to be befuddled for six months,” said A.G. Block, a longtime Capitol observer who directs a public affairs journalism program at UC Center Sacramento. “Will that slow things down? Yes.” Calderon might be the exception. He served in the Legislature from 1982-98. “I can hit the ground running and won’t essentially lose two to four years trying to figure out how the process works,” he said. “I know how to be effective.” Calderon said he believes the incoming class has a lot of potential. “These people are experienced,” he said. “They come from local government. They’re a little older and more mature. They’ve been involved in the process.” The rookies are in no waiting mood. Like high school class presidents arriving for their first year of college, they are eager to stand out from the pack, and soon. But the impact of term limits is a hard thing to quantify; who’s to say that entrenched legislators would accomplish more than energetic rookies? “I want to focus in on educational issues, allowing teachers to have more say on the curriculum they teach,” Mendoza said. “Educational issues should be handled by educational leaders, not politicians.” Calderon wants to focus on health care and the initiative process. “I’m tired of having to go to the ballot every election and have all these initiatives on it,” he said. “The Legislature ought to be resolving these issues.” Many observers believe that term limits have shifted power from lawmakers to lobbyists, bureaucrats, and staff members who’ve been around much longer. That may be less the case in the Senate – where members often arrive with Assembly experience and can stay for eight years – than in the Assembly, where six years in the maximum stay. Detractors also say that term limits disrupt the relationships among lawmakers and the governor that are crucial to getting things done. This year was hailed as the most productive legislative session in decades. But jockeying is expected to begin within a year to replace the leaders credited with crafting major legislative deals with Schwarzenegger. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu ez, D-Los Angeles, and Senate Majority Leader Don Perata, D-Oakland, both are termed out in two years. Still, any attempt to tinker with term limits looks to be a tough sell with a public wary of politicians. And the pre-term limits Legislature certainly had its own problems. “The idea that it ran smoothly is a crock,” said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant who has been involved in Capitol politics since the early 1970s. “It was boss rule,” he added, with legislative leaders who gained seniority and “became powerful chieftains for years.” But there is widespread agreement in the Capitol that the existing term limits are too strict. Schwarzenegger is expected to press a package of political reforms next year that may include relaxing the limits. One idea being floated is to allow a total 14 years in the Legislature, which could include any combination of service in the Assembly and Senate. The idea is designed to build more stability in the Assembly, where the six-year limit means members almost immediately have their sights on other jobs. To compensate for their inexperience, rookie members look to hire veteran staff and team up with more seasoned lawmakers. Mendoza has hired as his chief of staff Luis Patino, who for the past four years served as director of communications for former Sen. Richard Alarcon. The newcomers also have been getting training. “It’s mostly focused on the hiring of people, procedures and what to do with your district and capitol offices,” Mendoza said. “But,” he added, “the political stuff they don’t teach you. You have to do that on your own.” Staff Writer Mike Sprague contributed to this story.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!