I grew up in a household that lived and breathed politics. My parents have been passionate about the subject their whole lives, in no small part because my father was involved in politics for many years, including an eight-year stint in the state Legislature. The time he spent in Sacramento was one of the happiest and most dynamic eras in my parents? lives. Although most of the years my father served in the Assembly and Senate occurred before I was born, their fascination with politics rubbed off on me. I suspect many of my memories of my father?s years in Sacramento are largely based on stories I heard at the dinner table, including those about what a blast the elevators were at the Capitol. While waiting for my father, my siblings happily zipped up and down the elevators, keeping the stony-faced lobbyists bubbly company. But I remember when my father stopped going to Sacramento, and it wasn?t because of term limits. He gave up his Senate seat to run for a statewide office, but lost, which cast a pall over our home. Today, however, legislators don?t have a choice about whether to stay in office. If they don?t successfully pursue higher ground, term limits force them out. Thus, it is with much interest that I watch another era in Sacramento coming to an end. Eight veteran state senators, three of whom have had a major hand in shaping energy policy, are spending their last hours on the Senate floor. Senators John Burton (D-San Francisco), Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga), and Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto) are being termed out. Their terms officially end November 30, but practically speaking, their influence is gone after August 31. Also being forced out are Ross Johnson (R-Irvine), John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), Dede Alpert (D-San Diego), Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach), and Bruce McPherson (R-Santa Cruz). Burton, Sher, and Brulte?s departure is a huge loss for conscientious energy politics. Together, they represent the influence of seniority, which includes hard-earned knowledge?and, I like to think, wisdom?about energy legislation?s intricacies. Energy is a difficult task to master, and with the changes at the Capitol, we have to rely on relative old-timers?Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), Joe Canciamilla (D-Pittsburg), Keith Richman (R-Northridge), Bill Morrow (R-Oceanside), and perhaps Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), whose terms end in 2006?to take on bigger roles. It will be a while before other legislators show interest in the hugely important subject and\/or obtain enough seasoning to make thoughtful decisions. The impending loss of these senators is a concern to several energy players, particularly consumer and environmental advocates. ?There ain?t ever going to be anyone like Byron Sher, ever,? said one renewables advocate. Sher, a former Stanford law professor, first elected in 1980, has done more for alternative energy and conservation than any of his current or former colleagues. He was the author of the bill that created the renewables portfolio standard; another of his measures extended the pubic-goods program funding for efficiency, renewables, research and development, and low-income assistance; and his bill advancing the 20 percent green mandate for private utilities from 2017 to 2010 may head to the governor. For consumers, Brulte?s loss is not a ?huge concern,? according to Michael Shames, director of the Utility Consumers? Action Network, but ?his political savvy and professionalism will be a loss to the Senate.? Ever since the deregulation blowup, Brulte, the coauthor of the state?s deregulation law, has kept a fairly low profile. The Rancho Cucamonga legislator was first elected in 1990. The more notorious coauthor of deregulation legislation, the mercurial Steve Peace, was termed out a couple of years ago. Peace understood the forces of change in the energy market. He understood that open markets could cause the price of energy to decline. Unfortunately, he never paid much attention to the corollary, i.e., that an unregulated market could cause power costs to soar, which is just what they did. Whatever one?s feelings about Peace, he understands the process. He also holds in high regard institutional memory?much of which has already departed and more is in exodus. ?A mature Legislature, with more than six people who had been there at the time the work product was passed, would have had enough institutional memory to fight back? during the energy crisis, Peace stated in an interview published on line. ?This Legislature couldn?t,? he added. For some, the term limits did not come soon enough; for others, they came far too soon. I, for one, dislike term limits. They twist our democratic system, which allows voters the option of voting out those legislators they disapprove. In a general sense, I do agree that more new faces, energy, and ideas at the state Capitol can be a good thing, but it can also be the reverse, or a mix of the two. ?It is better to have guys who don?t know how to manipulate the rules and thwart the will of voters,? said Bob Stern, Center for Governmental Studies executive director. He believes getting fresh blood into the Senate body is a plus, adding that learning the ropes at the Capitol is ?not rocket science? but a skill that could be acquired in one to two years. That may be true for many issues, but it is not true for energy matters, which are complex and at times painfully arcane. How many new legislators, for example, understand or will comprehend ?ring-fencing,? a ?phantom regulatory asset,? how the gas and electricity markets merge and diverge, and the pros and cons of further liquefied natural gas development? I remember cringing during energy committee hearings on the bill to bail out Southern California Edison. It became painfully clear while listening to many of the new crop of lawmakers, whose introduction to energy was the crisis, that attempts to clean up the mess were driven by fear?fear of aggravating a complex debacle most barely understood. There is also another noteworthy benefit that experience can bring, which is that it can temper ideology. Bad experiences can teach people to ask questions. Johnson, who was first elected in 1978, was a true believer in deregulation before its crash. Post-crisis, he did not hesitate to ask meaningful questions in committee hearings. Failure to ask hard questions when deregulation legislation was being rammed through was its fatal flaw. Burton?loathed by big business groups?has been one of the strongest consumer advocates in the Senate. ?He doesn?t shrink from battles, and his personal power catalyzed [Governor Gray] Davis to do a few things right? during the energy crisis, including taking on the ?offending energy companies,? Shames said. Large business groups may be delighted with Burton?s departure and likely not too concerned about his replacement since they have the governor?s ear, as demonstrated by Schwarzenegger?s stance on AB 2006. Then there are those who?d like energy policy decided elsewhere. ?I don?t believe that state lawmakers are in any position, especially with term limits, to tackle the complicated subject of electricity,? said Gary Ackerman, head of the Western Power Trading Forum. ?Public officials are supposed to be elected, not electrocuted.? I?d agree that short, fixed terms surely can make the shock nearly fatal. The governor, who has less energy experience than his legislative colleagues, can?t go it alone, or even just with the California Public Utilities Commission. Thus, lawmakers need to get up to speed on the nitty-gritty of energy matters. And it does jangle the nerves because time is of the essence and because of the huge role campaign funds play in and outside the energy arena. A few years back, when my father was reminiscing about his political career, I asked him if he had ever wished he were back in office. He said he had not, noting that the political landscape had changed dramatically, largely because of the overwhelming influence of money. Then he paused and added, ?But it is the only game in town.?