Last year there was hope that California's political parties could agree to two major changes in the state's Constitution: term limits and redistricting. Democrats wanted to modify term limits and Republicans wanted to end gerrymandering. Negotiations proved fruitless and only term limits will be up for reconsideration this year, on February 5, presidential primary election day. Unsurprisingly, Republicans came out against the measure at their state meeting last fall.

But that is not all there is to it. Republicans, not all of them but many of them, don't like the term limits measure on the merits. For while it reduces the number of years of legislative service permitted from 14 (eight years in the Senate, six in the Assembly) to 12, it permits those fewer years to be served in any combination in both bodies.

Not only that, it permits those now serving to begin a new tenure from the date the measure becomes effective, sidestepping limits in a way that some regard as far too clever, if not downright sinister. Thus, the Democratic leadership in both legislative houses will survive the reduction in years because they can stay longer where they are.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, the only Republican elected statewide in 2006, is leading the fight against Proposition 93. But Steve Westley, former GOP State Controller, is supporting it. There is a legitimate difference of opinion on term limits, for however satisfying it is to see Democratic legislators termed out, it also terms out good Republican legislators.

This is a price some Republicans are willing to pay, given the fact that incumbents of both parties face little or no serious prospect of defeat in their gerrymandered districts. As in the once lily-white, one-party (Democrat) South, the only real challenges in California are in the primary elections.

It is worth noting that one of the main reasons for term limits, which was to restrain taxing and spending by getting rid of the "good old boys" who have perpetuated those disastrous policies, has not panned out. Despite term limits - indeed, despite a successful recall election against Democrat Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 - we have not seen a decrease in the size of the budget, or even in the rate of its growth.

The state faces yet another fiscal crisis borne of reckless spending and resistance to supply-side measures that can make up the deficit. Of course, that's assuming there is not a revenue crisis brought on by easy credit, easy money housing policies.

To sum up, if you think that as long as California's legislative districts remain "rotten boroughs" we need the current term limits of eight and six, vote against Proposition 93. If you think term limits have failed to restrain government's passion for taxing and spending, vote for it. Or flip a coin.

Meanwhile, we have the first results from the Iowa caucus that gave Sen. Barack Obama and Gov. Mike Huckabee a leg up in their quest for their respective party's presidential nomination this year. The most remarkable fact about them both is that they are the most "religious" of any candidates in the field.

Still, their politics are not the same, with Obama taking liberal positions on military, budgetary and social issues that are different only in some details from all other Democrats. Huckabee is predictably pro life and pro marriage and family, although he sounds like a liberal when it comes to budgetary matters and illegal immigration.

Gov. Mitt Romney is also a religious man, but his positions are consistently more conservative than Huckabee's. However, the Traditional Values Coalition gives both a perfect score on human life issues. (Save California scores Romney lower.)

The point is that there is no direct correlation between one's religious commitment and one's stand on the political issues of the day. That's encouraging, for two reasons. As has been remarked more than once this year, we are electing a president, not a pastor. What we want to know is how a candidate for the nation's highest office will act in the war on terror, the economy and protecting innocent human life. If his religious convictions lead him in the right direction, that is well and good. But if they don't, we should not blame the candidate's religion but rather his or her political judgment.

Second, our guiding star in American politics is the political philosophy of the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the "self evident" truth "that all men are created equal" in their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But the same document makes it clear that prudence, not religion, determines how best to secure our natural rights and protect our national independence.

I have frequently called attention to the powerful role Christianity has unavoidably played in our nation's great crises, for Americans are largely a Christian people. But that source of guidance needs to be informed by a reasoned and sober assessment of what needs to be done and what is possible in the circumstances. Indeed, church governance, no less than our nation's politics, needs prudence, lest enthusiasm overcome good sense.

ABOUT THE WRITER Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Taking Journalism Seriously: `Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at rhreeb@verizon.net.