Think Freely Media presents Common Sense with Paul Jacob

Dr. David Valentine seems surprised by what he calls “The Unintended Consequences of Term Limits.” Valentine, a tenured expert on legislative matters, served as director of the Missouri Senate’s Division of Research from 1985 to 2001 and is now Associate Director for Public Service at the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri. According to his research, limiting the terms of Missouri legislators has led to — of all things — legislators serving less time in office.

Who’d have guessed?

“Over the course of ten years,” Valentine’s report found, “the average tenure for Missouri House Representatives dropped by almost two-thirds, from a little over five years to two years.” The average tenure for a state senator dropped from nine years to three.

So, the good Doctor has diagnosed the legislature as less knowledgeable due to term limits: “Tenure can be viewed as a surrogate for knowledge,” Valentine explains, “about state government, the legislative process and the chamber in which members serve.”

In layman’s terms, representatives are serving less time, and thus they know less . . . about the legislature. No evidence or tests necessary; take it as a given.

But could some other knowledge be of import to legislating, to governing? Like the knowledge of running a business and how laws and regulations impact business? Or could teaching experience provide insight into education policy? Or working in health care or agriculture or . . . well, you get the point.

But Dr. Valentine doesn’t. He’s still overcoming his shock that limiting tenure produces less tenure.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

By: Redactor


  1. Larry Stirling says:

    I oppose term limits on the principle that the public should be able to elect who they wish.

    Term limits cut both ways. It rids us of bad legislators but more importantly also the good ones.

    The good ones get better with experience in dealing with long-term issues such as government efficiency, water supply, etc.

    The bad ones get more exposed with time and more likely to be turned out of office.

    Bring back choice. Eliminate artificial term limits. Let the public decide who stays and who goes based on their merits.

    Larry Stirling
    San Diego

  2. Duke of Gloucestor says:


    My inclination is to agree with your points, but how does one overcome the powers and advantages of incumbency?

    Oftentimes, pols who’ve served a great deal of time get re-elected simply because people are familiar with them.

    I agree that lifetime limits don’t make sense, but I don’t think it hurts that after a period of time a politician has to either take a term off or run for another position. Helps to level the playing field.

    The truly good ones should be able to do one or the other of these choices.

  3. Paul Jacob says:

    Larry, Duke — The public does, indeed, have the right to elect whomever they wish. But they also have the right to set the terms and the limits of those terms. I would not wish to impose term limits unless a majority of voters agreed, deciding — as they have — that term limits will both improve the performance of officeholders AND give voters more choices and better ones.

  4. dd says:

    My approach would be to eliminate term limits but implement ballot limits (i.e., a candidate’s name [for the same office] can only show up twice in a row).

    If the office holder is as good as claimed then the people can and will write-in his/her name on the ballot.

  5. Drik says:

    On the basis of the same studies that Dr. Valentine used, I have been able to conclude that term limits have brought a more honest and less corrupt legislature. Given that power, ie absense of consequences, corrupts, the lack of consequences given the legislature by the exisiting system’s version of Madison’s “confusion of the multitude” is automatically corrupting. Those wonderful studies done by Dr. Valentine “prove” that term limits are the only thing that undoes that damage.

  6. Skip Cook says:

    Two thoughts:

    If I were a Missouri taxpayer I would be less than sure that Dr. Valentine’s salary is or ever has been worthwhile.

    Finally, harkenig back to all of the pseudo arguments advanced by entrenched legislators for remaining forever imbedded in the process, I am reminded of the Arkansas school funding formula-the law by which the state divied up tax dollars to school systems around the state. A law which none of the members of the House Education Committe could explain which resulted in multiple lawsuits filed by aggrieved school systems.

    The catch? The house members on the committe had over 100 years of so called, “institutional” experience. I am sure with Dr. Valentine’s strained reasoning, such foolishness would be perfectly acceptable.

  7. A. Mark Hunt says:

    Governments unlike regular business enterprises have the authority to use force. I believe this power to be dangerous and corrupting. So let us not overexpose our elected officials. Let us instead make sure that they do not become “political aristocrats” and that they return to the general populace to labor under the laws they made just like the rest of us.

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