term limits

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The Next Election

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Elections are wonderful, even when the results are awfully hard to take. Last night in Arkansas, Issue 3 passed very narrowly — in a sea of voter confusion.

That confusion had been instilled by disinformation in the ballot wording.

The win for Issue 3 means the term limits on state legislators will now be dramatically weakened from six to 16 years in the state’s House and from eight to 16 years in the Senate.

Plus, a new commission appointed by legislators is now poised to give legislators a big, fat pay raise.

The politicians who schemed up Issue 3 are slippery smart. Give them that. They slipped a doubling of their allowed terms in office as well as a scam to hike their pay into a constitutional amendment featuring a popular partial ban on lobbyist gift-giving to legislators. Oh, and the measure will also add an extra year’s delay before a legislator can switch-hit to work as a lobbyist.

Still, the respected Talk Business/Hendrix College poll repeatedly demonstrated that telling voters what the measure actually did — the popular gift ban as well as the unpopular weakening of term limits — led voters to overwhelmingly come down against the ballot measure, weeks ago by 62 to 23 percent.

But on the ballot, while voters were told about the measure “barring gifts from lobbyists,” they were not told about the doubling of the term limit. Instead, the ballot language deceptively said the measure was “setting term limits.”

A strong grassroots campaign crisscrossed the state trying to alert folks, but confusion reigned. On Facebook, countless early voters were angry to find they’d been duped:

“I was fooled, we ought to petition to revote on that issue with wording that is straightforward and not so obfuscated.”

“I, too, was misled into voting for it. The ballot printed version is an out right lie!”

“It was set up to be tricky . . . I caught it, but there are a lot who won’t!”

“Dang! It is a trick question! I voted wrong!!!!”

One friend of mine, no fan of term limits, offered, “For all of our other differences, I’m with you on this. It’s a bait-and-switch designed to snooker the electorate.”

An Arkansas Term Limits leader noted that the Yes on Issue 3 campaign “pursued a campaign of silence, letting the deceptive ballot title do their work.”

Sen. Woods (R-Springdale), who co-authored the measure with a House Democrat, slyly told reporters, “I would advise anyone going to the ballots to read Issue Three and tell me it is not a good bill.”

“For this to fail,” he added, “it would send a bad message to law makers. Because, it would just show people aren’t necessarily that big on us working together.”

Woods even dubbed Issue 3, “bipartisanship at its best.”

The senator and the forces of boss rule are about to meet a bipartisan grassroots at its best.

“If this passes, it’s because many voters were tricked,” explained Kay Carico Wilson days ago. “Lots of people are saying they did not understand it and voted the wrong way. The interesting thing is that many Conservatives and Liberals are equally upset over this. We have found some common ground.”

It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature; it’s not wise to trick the voters. To these deceivers, the politicians who cheated the people of Arkansas: There will be another election.

See you there.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

My Simpler Solution

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Merry Election Day! Despite this weekend’s proposal, in the New York Times, to “Cancel the Midterms.” The authors, David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan, begin by lamenting the predictable pattern of midterm elections, especially in second-term presidencies. And then they say the very existence of midterms — the mere possibility of the House and a third of the Senate reshuffling every two years — “is harmful to American politics.”

The main impact of the midterm election in the modern era has been to weaken the president, the only government official (other than the powerless vice president) elected by the entire nation. . . . The realities of the modern election cycle are that we spend almost two years selecting a president with a well-developed agenda, but then, less than two years after the inauguration, the midterm election cripples that same president’s ability to advance that agenda.


The nut of the argument comes down to the notion that it would be best to rig the game to avoid conflict and dispute for as long as possible so that an “agenda” — whatever that may be — can be firmly put in place.

It’s the very opposite idea of the Founding Fathers’, who were trying to set up a system of checks and balances to preclude big, barely popular change. And who feared a powerful executive.

The Midterm Cancellation proposal gets absurd towards the end, where the authors tack on legislative term limits — an awfully generous 24 years — to counteract the extended terms their proposal requires.

Counteroffer: let’s start with term limits. Real ones.

Break up the incumbency power in our sclerotic Congress; don’t rob the people of biannual input.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Burkina Faso and Arkansas

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Maybe Burkina Faso, in northwest Africa between Mali and Niger, isn’t the easiest “Jeopardy” question for most of us in the U.S. But any place that’s seen massive protests because the head of state tried to escape term limits becomes pretty memorable to me.

In fact, the first region that pops into my head as a point of comparison and contrast is my own home state of Arkansas.

There are big differences in the respective battles over term limits, of course. In Burkina Faso, thousands clogged the streets after the 27-year presidential incumbent, Blaise Compaore, schemed to evade a constitutional term limit on his office. Facing unrelenting pressure, Compaore soon stepped down, not even awaiting the next election.

The furtive attempt to water down state legislative term limits in Arkansas hasn’t gotten as high on the radar there as the machinations in Burkina Faso. But the folks at Arkansas Term Limits (“vote AGAINST Issue #3”) have done much to publicize the scam, taking a wooden Trojan horse from town to town to vivify the point that the politicians bearing the “gift” of suspiciously eager self-reform have hidden a bomb at the bottom of the package: a doubling (or more) of their maximum permitted stay in a single legislative seat.

The media has started to pay attention. The story has gotten out.

Has it been enough? Have enough voters been reached to fend off the assault? When Tuesday’s results come in, we’ll know.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

“Deceptive” Charge “Misleading”

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Many politicians serve as powerful arguments for term limits. Arkansas State Senator Jon Woods rivals the best.

Sen. Woods (R-Springdale) and State Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) authored a 22-page, 7,000-word constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot. They say Issue 3 is about ethics and transparency.

You decide.

Woods and Sabin threw together various ethics provisions and then stuck in a gutting of term limits. Their ballot title reads it is “establishing term limits” — without bothering to inform voters that it doubles how long legislators can stay in the Senate and more than doubles the House limit — to a whopping 16 years!

This week, Arkansas Term Limits debuted TV ads alerting the public to the scam, charging that legislators have “pursued a campaign of silence . . . letting the deceptive ballot title do their work,” so that “when Arkansas voters go to the polls there will be no mention of the doubling of term[s].”

The unrepentant Sen. Woods says that it is “misleading” to call his Issue 3 deceptive. Meanwhile, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that, after asking if Woods’s ballot language wasn’t indeed deceptive: “Woods said he doesn’t know.”

The senator’s response to the Arkansas GOP Convention’s nearly unanimous resolution against Issue 3? “You just have a couple of nuts that got together on a Saturday that were out of touch with Arkansans and passed a silly resolution that in no way reflects the point of view of all Republicans in Arkansas.”

Perhaps Democratic politicians are smarter. Democratic co-author Sabin is nowhere to be found in news coverage of Issue 3, likely hiding under his bed.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Grand Rapids’ Grand Alliance

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Two incredible activists in Grand Rapids, Michigan, have achieved the impossible. Through their hard work in gathering over 10,000 voter signatures on a petition, Rina Baker and Bonnie Burke have united big business and big labor in perfect harmony.

Union bosses and the bigs of biz are now funding a united campaign.

Their ubiquitous mailers speak against the “hijacking of our local democratic process” and sinister forces trying to “change our city charter, erode local control and silence your voice,” warning Grand Rapids residents: “Don’t let your vote be shredded.”

Shredded votes? What specific issue are they talking about?

Well, this well-funded business/labor campaign has purposely left out two words that, if uttered, would obliterate their entire effort.

Those two little words? Term limits.

The law that Rina Baker and Bonnie Burke have petitioned onto the ballot, for a public vote? An eight-year limit for mayor and council members.

Nothing brings powerful special interests together like fear of term limits.

The president of the United States is limited to eight years, but Andy Johnston, the Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of government affairs, argues that, “Particularly at the local level, it takes time to learn the ins and outs of city government.”

“In politics you develop relationships with different people,” explains Kent-Ionia Labor Council President Sean Egan. “When you continually replace good politicians for the sake of having new people, you lose the wisdom and experience and you end up with policy created by other groups.”

You mean policy supported by folks “other” than big business and big labor?

Oh, my!

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Corrupt Craft

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Some political opponents win your respect, even if not your agreement. Others … well, not so much.

Earlier this week, a publication called Arkansas Business editorialized against Issue 3 on the Natural State’s November ballot, calling it “a freakish hybrid, a gambit to trick voters into expanding term limits for state legislators.”

This constitutional amendment was proposed with overwhelming support from state legislators, who designed it to hoodwink voters into gutting their term limits. The measure hides that consequential change — from six years in the House to 16 years and from eight years in the Senate to 16 years — inside a so-called “ethics” amendment.

The ballot wording only tells voters that the measure is “setting” term limits, which Arkansas Business correctly points out “conveys something close to the opposite of what the amendment would do,” adding “it’s certainly misleading.”

Now, Arkansas Business is no fan of term limits. The editorial concludes, “Arguments can be made for each of these proposals [in Issue 3], including longer term limits.… But we can’t endorse the current form, as much as we’d like to.”

Arkansas Business seems clearly offended by the deception. How endearingly unsophisticated!

Meanwhile, more elite opinion applauds the brilliance of the scheme, the amazing skill of these politicians applying their sneaky technique.

“Arkansas voters soundly rejected term-limit changes in 2004,” reports Governing magazine, paraphrasing University of Arkansas Professor Janine Parry, “but this time proponents craftily inserted their language into a broad package that, among other things, prohibits corporate contributions to candidates and lobbyist gifts to elected officials.”

“Craftily”?

What on earth is their craft? Fraud?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Term Limits: Let’s Keep ’em

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Former Clinton Treasury secretary Larry Summers proposes that we switch from an eight-year, two-term limit for the union’s presidency to a six-year, single-term limit. He contends that by chucking the president’s second term, we can maybe prevent such gridlock and scandal as tends to especially afflict those second terms.

Six years is a long time to be stuck with an abysmal president, though.

And when the policies that a president imposes or encourages in his first term turn out to be an endless horror show — I’ll name no names here except Obama and Obamacare, IRS’s ideological targeting, NSA’s surveillance of us all, millions in tax dollars flung at bankrupt eco-firms like Solyndra, etc. — the more gridlock the better, seems to me. For it nobly reduces the extent to which we can be kicked in the teeth.

And I don’t like being kicked in the teeth.

However, throw in a national recall power so Americans can boot incumbents from office when they’re fed up with them, and I might accept that single six-year term, Professor.

In reply to Summers, some pundits argue that we should just drop presidential term limits altogether. We have heard the suggestion before. But I agree with blogger Matthew Dickinson. He argues in a piece for Christian Science Monitor that whatever the abuses plaguing term two, these must pale in comparison to the problems which flow from enabling presidents-for-life. Their abuses of power, around the world, are legion, and nigh unstoppable.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.