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Third in a series of articles on the La Mesa Term Limits By La Mesa Today member Anthony Mc Ivor.
By Anthony D. Mc Ivor
LA MESA -- With Proposition K poised to inflict Municipal Code restrictions on La Mesa voters, the air is rich in term limits mythology. Despite regular debunking, many of these myths enjoy wide circulation. With a view to the decision we must make in November, here in question format are my Top 10.
#10. Term limits are needed because elections do not work? Not so. Florida State scholar Jeff Mondak conducted a widely-noted, non-partisan study of Congress reaching back to the mid-1970s. Mondak’s work shows clearly how the least competent and untrustworthy were washed out of office by regular elections within three cycles.
#9. Term limits will promote electoral competition? Not so. Political scientists analyzing election data from diverse states find the opposite to be true: competition has often decreased.
#8. Term limits will bring in fresh faces with new ideas? Not so. Nationwide research now confirms that people who have won seats after term limits look very much the same as their predecessors in gender, age, professional background, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
#7. Term limits will take power out of the hands of well-financed lobbies and special interests? Not so. Rather, they do the opposite by increasing our officials’ dependence on professional staff and those very lobbyists.
#6. Term limits will make officials more responsive to the community? Not so. A respected 50-state survey of legislatures found that legislators in term-limited chambers actually spent less time keeping in touch with their constituents and worse, spent less time securing projects and funding for their districts.
#5. Term Limits will end the greatest menace to American public life: “career politicians”? Not so. Term limits do nothing – absolutely nothing – to put an end to career politicians. This is a fantasy. Professional politicians simply shift to the next gig in their careers – just like teachers to the next class, doctors to the next hospital, and mechanics to the next engine shop.
As for La Mesa, if wicked “career politicians” have stalked our streets for the past 20 years, as advocates suggest, why not a single recall campaign? Why no editorial crusades calling out the incompetents or the scoundrels? Why no investigations or charges brought for the alleged corruption? And what’s more, if the perils posed by incumbents are so grim, why do activists boast that Prop K will allow those same incumbents to serve for 24 out of 28 years? The closer you look, the less sense this makes.
#4. Term limits are a low-risk gamble because everyone knows public service is not “rocket science”? Not so. If it were easy, the current Council would have long since solved all of La Mesa’s high-profile issues. An artificially limited time in office makes matters much worse by forcing officials to focus on short-term issues, the quick “wins,” rather than time-consuming and complicated problems such as pensions, budgets, re-development and water.
#3. Term limits restrictions fall on the incumbents, not the voters? Not so. An incumbent will be required to step aside after winning three terms, but the voters will have an abridged ballot in every election where any incumbent is banned. Voters will lose, not just once but ever after, the priceless right to freely choose their own future. Voters will also bear the brunt as “short” or soon-to-be termed out officials turn their attention elsewhere.
#2. Term limits are a necessary remedy for the civic malaise La Mesa suffers? Not so. Exactly what malady does La Mesa suffer? Big money? Outside interests? Vast media buys? An elite class of inaccessible politicians? Again, if the threat to La Mesa is clear and present, why does Prop K require us to wait 12-14 more years for relief? This much-hyped myth is just election-year malarkey.
And, #1. Term limits must work because they seem so popular? Not so (emphatically not so). After 25 years of experimentation, activists cannot point to a single American jurisdiction where the end benefits promised have been realized. Not one. By the activists’ own criteria, term limits are an unqualified failure. And that’s the nub of it: this stuff does not work.
Term limits are a fine example of what happens when ideology bumps common sense off the rails. Proposition K is an extreme measure that does not remotely fit our circumstances. La Mesa voters can continue to elect civic officials without the cold hand of the Municipal Code on their shoulders – by just saying No! to Proposition K.
Series Part I: CLICK HERE.
Series Part II CLICK HERE.