term limits

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Legislators, Tramps and Thieves

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

In the closing days of Arkansas’s 2013 legislative session, solons of the Natural State surreptitiously voted to put a measure on the state ballot, without fanfare or ballyhoo.

Five months later, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette finally noticed what happened, and published an editorial, “Outrage of the Year.’ It has just been reprinted. The outrage hasn’t changed. The measure would extend time in office “for state representatives from 6 to 16 years and for state senators from 8 to 16 years.”

But what an Arkansan will read on the ballot seems a tad different: “An Amendment Regulating Contributions to Candidates for State or Local Office, Barring Gifts From Lobbyists to Certain State Officials, Providing for Setting Salaries of Certain State Officials, and Setting Term Limits for Members of the General Assembly.”

“Setting” term limits? No sir. Term limits, already set by voters, would be drastically weakened.

But the good people of Arkansas are beginning to hear the good news, the truth, thanks to the campaign being waged by Arkansas Term Limits against what will be “Issue 3” on the ballot.

The group is led by Bob Porto and my brother, Tim Jacob, who are traveling the state speaking to audiences. Not surprisingly, the people are shocked and angered upon hearing the manifest fraud their representatives are perpetrating.

At a recent talk, Jacob called it “an attempt to deceive the voters,” noting “they have done it on purpose.”

Yet another argument for strict term limits . . . and fully informed voters.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Mr. Majesty

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Are American presidents becoming (or have they long since become) tantamount to elected kings?

Cato Institute scholar Gene Healy has penned volumes about the super-sized presidency (The Cult of the Presidency and False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency, for two). So he’s well-qualified to assess conservative law professor F.H. Buckley’s Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.

Buckley both credits our Constitution for protecting our liberty and indicts it for fostering the modern assaults on that liberty.

Our government has lapsed into an “elective monarchy,” which also afflicts parliamentary systems but to which presidential systems are especially susceptible. For “presidentialism fosters the rise of Crown government.” It “encourages messianism by making the head of government the head of state,” insulating him from legislative accountability and making it harder to remove him.

Though Healy finds the argument well-defended in many respects, he isn’t entirely convinced. He’d like more evidence, for example, that parliamentary systems are as better equipped to reverse big and bad policies as they are at imposing them.

I’ll let these two argue the nuances regarding which form of out-of-control national government is most dangerously constituted. We can be grateful, at least, that our own elected king is curbed by term limits much less easily shucked than has proved the case in other presidentially governed countries.

Like these others, we may have an elected monarch. But, pre- and post-FDR, he is not a monarch-for-life. Not yet.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Empowering Abuse of Power

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Have a yen to cling indefinitely to political power? You probably oppose term limits . . . as well as the citizen initiative rights enabling voters to term-limit you.

And when voters possess both initiative rights and a willingness to exercise them, it wouldn’t surprise me if you pray that any judge assessing a duly petitioned-for term limits question deems it unconstitutional. Even if it’s garnered 596,140 signatures, 300,000 more than the minimum valid signatures required.

You guessed it: Not a hypothetical scenario. And not, of course, about you.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is leading to impose eight-year term limits on all legislative service in Illinois. The petition has more than enough valid signatures to reach the ballot. But incumbents sued, citing an early 1990s decision by the Illinois Supreme Court that declared a different term limits question unconstitutional.

Cook County Judge Mary Mikva agrees; “precedent dictates a very narrow provision for allowing the voters to directly enact term amendments to the Illinois Constitution.” Her June 27 ruling is being appealed.

The state’s notoriously corrupt political class may wish upon a constellation, but wishing won’t make the cited precedent relevant.

As Jacob Huebert, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, argued in a recent op-ed, “term limits are exactly the type of provision the Constitution’s framers thought citizens should be allowed to propose and vote on.” He added, “This isn’t just a common-sense reading of what the Illinois Constitution says; it’s also what its framers said explicitly when they included this provision.”

The stated aim of republican constitutions in America has never been to protect incumbents from effective citizen oversight and control.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Term Limits Poster Boy #98,992,938

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

A Wisconsin lawmaker has changed his mind about term limits. Maybe.

Power that politicians shouldn’t have in the first place is easily abused. And it’s easy to see how incumbents who come to regard inherently abusive power over others as “normal” may succumb to other ethical laxities.

That is, power tends to corrupt. Lord Acton had a point.

On the other hand, some incumbents are morally derelict before they reach office — for example, with respect to the pledges they make to voters as a way of appealing for votes.Scott Krug

Which breach did Scott Krug commit? That of swerving from fidelity to the truth in 2010 about whether he would limit his tenure (“I’m for real. . . . Four years, done.”)? Or that of scuppering an “honest” pledge only after it dawned on him that if he kept his promise not to run again after serving four years, it would mean not running again after serving four years?

Does it matter? If Krug wasn’t lying back then, he’s lying right now when he expatiates about how his newfound appreciation of the Value of Experience trumps any formal vow.

I’m gratified, and not surprised, when candidates keep their term-limit pledges. I’m saddened, but also not surprised, when others fail to. Krug’s cruddy conduct is just one reason I must dispute Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s recent pronouncement that although a hyper-corrupt state like Illinois may need term limits, Wisconsin does not.

Acton’s principle is no respecter of geographic boundaries.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Nashville’s Trojan Horse

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Beware of politicians bearing gifts.

The titans on the Metro Nashville Charter Revision Commission voted, last week, to recommend that a charter amendment be placed on the ballot, weakening term limits for the Metro Council and reducing representation on it.

“Taken together,” reports The Tennessean, “the proposed changes could throw the 2015 council elections into upheaval by eliminating one of every three seats while offering new political life to more than half of the current council.”Nashville Metro Council

The amendment now goes to the council, needing 27 of 40 members to vote yes. Almost that many are term-limited next year, so the measure may go on the ballot as early as August.

A former Metro law director on the Charter Revision Commission argued there shouldn’t be any term limits at all, but Councilwoman Emily Evans, the amendment’s sponsor, admitted to reporters that reducing the size of the council was likely the only way to get voters to agree to a weakening of term limits. She noted, “You have to give the public something.”

While voters tend to favor reducing legislative bodies, perhaps to save on costs and unnecessary drama, the other direction makes more sense: smaller districts, where each citizen is more important to his or her representative and that representative can accumulate less power.

A 2005 attempt to cut the size of the council was blocked by strong public opposition, so that may not be the sweetener the politicians think.

As for term limits, voters passed them in 1994 and have three times blocked council attempts to weaken or kill the limits.

Nashville voters know a Trojan Horse when they see it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Democracy vs. Power Grabber

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Like many countries with a young democracy, Panama constitutionally term-limits its president. And like many such countries, Panama has endured a president eager to dispense with the irksome restriction.

Too often, deleting the term limit comes too easy. All it takes is a few cooperative lawmakers of the ruling party or a few cooperative judges; at most, a national referendum, if the officeholder is popular . . . or ruthless enough to rig it.

In Panama, though, Martinelli — who must sit out the next two terms before running for the presidency again — has been hitting a brick wall.Panama MAP

Amending Panama’s constitution is easier than amending our own. But it still requires the co-operation of two separate legislative bodies. He could not obtain it.

A referendum was also a non-starter. Martinelli proved less popular toward the end of his term than he was at the beginning, and Panamanian voters showed little inclination to lengthen his tenure.

He tried packing Panama’s supreme court so that it would determine the constitutional term limit to be unconstitutional. But mass protests forced a retreat there as well.

Finally, the incumbent tried the hand-picked-successor gambit — “re-election in disguise” — ardently campaigning for José Domingo Arias and Arias’s vice presidential candidate, Martinelli’s wife. On May 4, though, Juan Carlos Varela won a three-way contest for the presidency with a 39 percent plurality.

The result is not a permanent victory for term limits or democracy; such victories are never permanent. But it is a victory, and a big one.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Term Limits Now

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Government of, by and for the people.

Yeah, right.

If government were “of, by and for” us . . . well, for starters, we’d have term limits.

Especially in Illinois. The Land of Lincoln has become the nation’s capital of corruption — four of the last seven governors went on to serve time in prison.

The state’s most powerful politician is House Speaker Michael Madigan, the longest-serving speaker in state history. Madigan is powerful, yes, but not at all popular — rated negatively by a substantial 65 percent of the public.

So much for popular government.

But yesterday, the negativity of Illinois politics was met quite positively — and head-on. The Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits delivered to the state Board of Elections a 36-foot long box, weighing nearly two tons, filled with 68,000 pages of petitions containing nearly 600,000 voter signatures.

That’s more than enough signatures to place the constitutional amendment onto the ballot. The measure will limit state legislators to eight years in office. It will also reduce the size of the state senate and increase the size of the state house, while upping the legislative vote needed to override a governor’s veto to the same two thirds threshold found in 37 other states.

Yet, hours before all those voter signatures were presented to officials, an attorney connected to Speaker Madigan filed a lawsuit hoping to block the vote. The news report on the lawsuit quoted “sources who asked not to be identified for fear of risking their ability to secure state grant dollars.”

Term limits. Now.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.