Love where you live!
By Anthony D. Mc Ivor
Second of four essays on the Term Limit proposal submitted by La Mesa Today member Anthony D. Mc Ivor. Readers are encouraged to comment below or submit formal responses to be considered for publication.
LA MESA -- In November, La Mesa voters will decide whether to change the Municipal Code and put into law a significant new ordinance. The ordinance will tell us – and future generations of La Mesa voters – who we can vote for, who we can’t and when.
Term limits are a politically-driven experiment that has already inflicted needless waste and expense on jurisdictions across the country. And the worst of it? There is simply no evidence that they work. Quite the contrary.
After 25 years of experimentation, the benefits claimed by advocates remain unrealized. Nor have term limits put a civic renaissance on the near horizon – anywhere. Experienced observers on both sides of the aisle now consider term limits political fool’s gold.
The word most often used to describe the impact of term limits is “disaster.” And not just in Sacramento. Evidence of failure comes from all directions.
The Joint Project on Term Limits – a cooperative effort by a team of political scientists, and professional staff at the National Council of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments and the State Legislative Leaders Foundation – examined the effects of term limits and concluded that while limits have indeed weakened legislatures institutionally, “the consequences were not as dire as they might have been.” And that’s the good news.
Political scientists at Florida Atlantic University tested the popular assumption the term limits produce more competition for elective office. Analyzing election data from Florida and Maine, their published research concluded that competition did not increase and “in fact, it generally declined, often sharply.”
Brian Tucker, publisher of Crain’s Cleveland Business, writes that anyone who thinks term limits are a panacea “ought to talk with folks in the Buckeye State where term limits have wrought havoc and created even more divisiveness in Columbus.”
Writing in the non-partisan State News (West), Mary Lou Cooper asks whether term limits accomplish “what they set out to do.” Her survey of new research shows that term limits did nothing to discourage “professional politicians.” Instead, she reports, “newcomers were more likely than any other group to have held public office prior to their election.”
Still more discouraging, legislators in term-limited chambers spend less time keeping in touch with constituents, and Cooper says, “term-limited lawmakers say they spend less time securing…projects for their districts.”
David King, faculty chair at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government has studied term limits since the early 1990’s. In 2010, he observed that “The evidence after 20 years of this in state legislatures is crystal clear: term limits empower special interests, lobbyists and long-time staffers and they work against the interests of the American people.”
Given all that, why are limits even proposed? “People react,” King explained, “by their instinct and anger, which is understandable. But sometimes instinct and anger take us in the wrong direction.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it.
President Reagan arrived at the same conclusion. After much thought, he called term limits “a mistake,” and “an infringement on the democratic rights of the people.”
Term limits are more than an infringement; they are plainly a blunder. If the best that can be said for them is “it could have been worse,” they are just as plainly a gamble.
And the bad news on this sham approach to public policy just keeps coming. Have a look at the empirical sources that inform Jordan Ragusa’s recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor, “Midterm Elections: Why the Logic of ‘throwing the bums out’ Is Wrong.” (2 Sept 2014)
The term limits experiment is a fiasco. Arkansas House Speaker Davy Carter, a Republican, nailed it for all levels of government. “They don’t work,” he said. “If (their impact) doesn’t give you cause for concern, it should.”
Turnover on the La Mesa City Council this year will be at least 40% – without term limits. Our city runs well because La Mesans have elected competent officials for 100 years – without the heavy hand of term limits. We are still capable of making those decisions. We can still handle a full ballot. We do not need a new ordinance to narrow our choices for us.
So, should we gamble our unrestricted freedom of choice on the false promise of a failed political fad? Should our children have to live with the consequences? Or, should we decline to gamble in November and instead dispatch term limits to the bin of bad ideas? It’s still our choice to make.