term limits

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Land of Limited Terms

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

It’s baaaaaack.

The issue that won’t go away: Term limits.

I predict that Bruce Rauner, a businessman who has never before held public office, will win the GOP nomination as a result of today’s Illinois Republican Party Primary for Governor, besting three career politicians sporting 60-plus years in office, total.

I’m no soothsayer; Rauner leads in the polls. The key issue driving support for him is his support for term limits.

“Term limits should apply to all politicians,” he proclaims in a TV spot, “and not just when they go to jail.”

It’s not just a cute line. Four of Illinois’ last seven governors have ended up in prison . . . so have a number of congressmen representing [sic] the Land of Lincoln.

Rauner’s term limits advocacy includes actual deeds. He is helping, financially and organizationally, to gather half-a-million voter signatures on a petition to place a constitutional amendment imposing eight-year term limits on state legislators before the electorate this November.

Polls show a whopping 79 percent of Illinois voters favor those term limits.

Still, powerful folks amongst the state’s other 21 percent are not pleased by Rauner, who has also called for reforming Illinois’ pension systems, ranked worst funded in the nation. Public employee unions funded a month-long TV ad blitz making baseless charges against the businessman.

With incumbent Governor Pat Quinn facing no significant opposition in the Democratic Primary, the unions are also organizing Democrats to crossover to vote for State Sen. Kirk Dillard in the Republican Primary.

But I think Dillard, the 20-year incumbent Republican officeholder, will be no match for the guy who supports term limits.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Abiding by Term Limits

Friday, January 24th, 2014

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn would easily win a third term in 2016, if he chose to run. But just as he stepped down from the U.S. House after three terms, after having pledged to do, so he is stepping down after winning two terms in the U.S. Senate.

Coburn had affirmed his commitment to serve no more than two terms before winning re-election in 2010. But now he has announced that he is leaving at the end of 2014, two years early.

He was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, but says “this decision isn’t about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires. My commitment to the people of Oklahoma has always been that I would serve no more than two terms. Our founders saw public service and politics as a calling rather than a career. That’s how I saw it when I first ran for office in 1994, and that’s how I still see it today. I believe it’s important to live under the laws I helped write, and even those I fought hard to block.”

Expect to hear from Tom Coburn after he leaves office. A prominent former office-holder can easily exert influence on public policy debate if that is what he wants to do. And Coburn rightly observes that many Americans “with real-world experience and good judgment” can fill either his shoes directly in Washington, or make their voices heard in other ways.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Too Sneaky by Half

Monday, January 20th, 2014

A funny thing happened on the way to reform.

The freshly minted Republican-dominated Arksansas State Assumbly put up three constitutional amendments for next November’s ballot. Secretly, they are likely proudest of one of them, “The Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Act.” For, snuck into the amendment, is a gutting of term limits.

The voters long ago enacted six-year House limits, not the 16 years proposed now by legislators. The voters limit state senators to two four-year terms, while legislators are trying to double their ride on the gravy train.

A number of legislators now claim even they didn’t know the term limits provision was in the legislation. Others explain that their “aye” vote was cast mistakenly on their behalf after they had left the building.

But all that’s nothing compared to this wrinkle, which I wrote about on Townhall this weekend. Hidden in a separate piece of legislation passed last year was a strange provision dealing with setting ballot language for measures referred by the legislature. Legislators took the power to write a ballot measure’s “Popular Name” — the so-called short title — away from the Attorney General, who previously enjoyed that statutory role, and gave it to themselves.

However, after legally stripping any other elected official of that same power, the plotters neglected to do one teensy-weensy thing: provide that language for their new term extension.

The upshot? The sneaky, dishonest anti-term limits amendment may not appear on the ballot.

Hoisted on their own petard, the whole elaborate scheme threatens to blow up in their own dear faces.

Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Illustration by ocularinvasion used under a Creative Commons license.

Green Politicians and Ham

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Dear Reader: This “BEST of Common Sense” comment originally aired on August 8, 2003, and has been repeated at least once. Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” is in the news again, and I thought I’d jump message and divert your attention away from inane fun-poking to the important issue of “getting used to” what’s good for us. —PJ

“Do you like green eggs and ham? . . . Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may, I say.”

Same goes for politicians and term limits. When state legislators ever-so-reluctantly try term limits, turns out that they actually like green eggs and ham, that is, term limits, better than state legislators who aren’t term-limited.

I read an endless stream of stories about how politicians, about to be term-limited, say the limits aren’t working. News flash: Politicians have always hated term limits. But now a survey commissioned by the National Conference of State Legislatures finds something surprising: there is more support for term limits among legislators in term-limited states than there is among politicians who have no actual experience with term limits.

Think about that. When asked whether term limits “promote healthy change” or “don’t work,” legislators serving under term limits in their state were 50 percent more likely to see term limits in positive terms than their unlimited colleagues.

“Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!”

Well, I guess we shouldn’t get carried away. Even in term-limited states, legislators oppose the limits by a margin of nearly four to one. Term limits were designed to please voters, not legislators.

Still, good to know that for legislators under term limits, the idea is starting to grow on them.

Ever so slowly.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Natural State of Politicians

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Republicans took over both chambers of the Arkansas Legislature, last November, and now have control for the first time since Reconstruction — that’s the century before the century before this century.

Not long after their installation ceremony, the Republican majority — apparently eager to make new reforms — introduced Senate Bill 821, creating a new state program to regulate people circulating initiative petitions. Arkansas activists, the Advance Arkansas Institute and Citizens in Charge were effective in getting legislators to dramatically pare back and remove several harmful and unconstitutional provisions of SB 821, but the legislation designed “to make the referendum process prohibitively difficult in Arkansas,” still passed.

Even more underhanded was passage of House Joint Resolution 1009, “The Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency and Financial Reform Act of 2014.” It’s a doozy:

  • With claims of preventing legislators from giving themselves a pay raise, the measure actually removes the current constitutional requirement that voters approve any pay increase and creates a commission of citizens (appointed by legislators and other politicians) to give those same politicians a pay raise.
  • While claiming to enact a gift ban and other ethics reforms, the measure actually provides, Arkansas Times’ Max Brantley wrote, “constitutional protection extended to special interest banquets and travel junkets for legislators.”
  • Completely unannounced by the title, the measure also changes the state’s term limits by allowing legislators to hang around for 16 years in the House or the Senate.

Still, I look on the bright side. The people of Arkansas, having meet their new boss, will petition and vote and sue to protect their rights.

Plus, yesterday, the legislature adjourned. It’s safe again in Arkansas.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Don’t Copy Chávez

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Americans eager to weaken various limits on political power here at home should pay closer attention to news from abroad.

Around the globe, killing presidential term limits is high on the to-do list of aspiring presidents-for-life.

Autocrats also dislike the right of citizen initiative. Even when they abstain from trying to kill initiative rights altogether, they often seek outrageous restrictions on them, or even stoop to harassing petitioners and voters.Hugo Cloned

One such enemy of the people was Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez, now dead. Chávez was an equal-opportunity attacker of citizen rights. He expropriated businesses, bullied media, once even ordered soldiers to fire on anti-Chávez protesters (they refused). He also succeeded in eliminating presidential term limits.

In 2003, his government arranged for the public release of the names of Venezuelans who had signed a petition to recall Chávez. The names were stolen from the office charged with overseeing the petition drive and leaked to a pro-Chávez legislator, who then published them on his website. Many signers lost jobs, loans, and other opportunities controlled by the state.

American foes of term limits, initiative rights, and other constraints on concentrated power may think there’s no comparison. But every chipping away at protections against tyranny is dangerous.

While it is true that no single limit on power can substitute for all the cultural values and ideas that underlie our rights as free citizens, it is also the case that institutions and culture reinforce each other. The foundation of a building has more than one cornerstone.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Market Power vs. Political Power

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Critics of term limits on elected officials sometimes say: “You wouldn’t term-limit a neurosurgeon/fireman/[other indispensable professional] just because he’s experienced, wouldja?”

No. But I am capable of distinguishing between economic power and political power — between voluntary trade and policies imposed by force. It’s all about “opting out”: we are free to decline the iPad, but not Obamacare.

A study reported in Harvard Business Review suggests that CEOs who start out as dynamic entrepreneurs, responsive to market conditions, often grow more conservative over time. Commentators debate whether such waning of entrepreneurial vitality is inevitable. Sure, the Steve-Jobs-like exceptions loom large. Nevertheless, we can readily imagine a CEO stuck in the strategies of yesteryear.

My point, though, is that customers, shareholders and/or other company officers working within a market context can fix the situation when evidence piles up that the formerly right guy for the job is now the wrong one. Every day we hear of failed CEOs being ousted, failed companies closing their doors.

Au contraire when it comes to political incumbents. They often snag re-election despite widespread and intense discontent with their performance. (See the 2012 presidential and congressional election.)

I don’t worry when good persons must leave an elective office before doing all the good they can there. They can do good elsewhere too. I worry when politicians become entrenched in a seat of power for decades, becoming more and more inured to the consequences of their actions — and more and more brazen about assailing our wallets and freedom.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.