Saturday, February 25, 2006

Warning: A Long Post

Y'all can thank the SideKick for this long post. The SideKick & I got into a quite heated argument this morning about his naive belief that term limits for members of Congress will actually accomplish anything. He ruined my day, since I now must sit in the living room of my home, the sun pouring in the windows from a 15° F day, ingest certain legal condiments & write this rebuttal to his bad idea. First off there’s this from the Arkansas News Bureau. Here’s a selection from the article:

“I certainly do not profess to be an expert on the Arkansas Legislature, but I have heard a few folks who make a living reporting the ins and outs at the state Capitol say that our state's legislative branch is in bad shape. I'm not completely sure what is meant by that dire appraisal.

“Both legislators and reporters claim that the body lacks the institutional memory it once had: Lawmakers waste a lot of time making the mistakes previous bodies made years ago.

“Another criticism is that lawmakers don't have enough time to learn the intricacies of the budgetary process, which doesn't allow them to make informed decisions.”
Emphasis added.

In fairness, the article concludes by saying that extending the time that legislators serve is probably not the answer. One other possible problem seems that the Arkansas legislators are not paid very well & the article correctly reasons that you get what you pay for.

Of course the SideKick has great company in the term limit arguement, Fred Barnes, for one. But Fred is given the following to chew on:

"...but I think we already have term limits in this country. They’re called elections. Every two, four or six years, the voters have the opportunity to replace every elected member of our government. If the American people aren’t exercising their sovereign franchise as often or as definitively as we’d like, then let’s get out there and change some minds. That’s how democracy works, even a purely representative democracy like ours.

"But the bigger problem with term limits is that it would shift the legislative power from the accountable to the unaccountable. Washington already runs on rails greased by the career staffers and lobbyists. Legislators who hold on to their offices learn to conduct the business of politics — “learn to play the game,” I could have said less optimistically — while retaining the approval of their constituents. Pulling these men and women out of Washington just when they’re gaining the experience necessary to become good legislators would tip the balance solidly in favor of the unelected D.C. establishment.

But what about the bad legislators, you ask? That brings us back to elections again. The people are the final arbiter of who gets to make the laws in this country. If they’re not doing the job, throw the bums out.

I think imposing term limits would be slapping a bandage on some very real challenges. Legislative ethics is a giant muddle; voter participation is embarrassingly low; the Washington bureaucracy is a Gordian knot of above-board and under-the-table deals. These things all need to be fixed. But slapping term limits on elected representatives wouldn’t solve those problems, and it would create a whole raft of new ones in the process."
Emphasis added.

In Maine, Alan Greenblatt notes, one of the big problems is the “orphan program”:

“Steven Rowe is a big proponent of early childhood interventions. He believes they can help reduce rates of mental illness, learning disability and, ultimately, criminal behavior. While serving as speaker of the Maine House six years ago, Rowe translated his ideals into a specific program, sponsoring legislation that expanded child care subsidies, provided tax breaks to businesses offering child care help to their workers and created a statewide home visitation network. When it came time for a vote, Rowe left his speaker’s rostrum for the first time to argue for it, saying, “I have never felt more strongly about a bill.”January cover
“With that kind of a push from the chamber’s top leader, it’s no wonder that his package passed by an overwhelming margin. It may have been Rowe’s most important accomplishment as a legislator. It was also one of his last. After eight years in the House, including two as speaker, he was forced out of office by the state’s term limits law. Rowe is now Maine’s attorney general — a good job, but one that doesn’t give him much leverage over the program he created. His cosponsors on the child care law aren’t in the legislature anymore, either. They have been term-limited out as well.
“In the absence of Rowe and his child care allies, funding for the package has already been slashed by a third, with more cuts likely to come. Plenty of programs have lost funding in recent years as Maine, like so many states, has suffered from fiscal shortfalls. But Maine, along with other term limit states, is experiencing an added phenomenon: the orphaned program, vulnerable to reduction or elimination because of the forced retirement of its champions. “We’re probably seeing more neglect because legislators aren’t there to babysit their own legislation,” says Renee Bukovchik Van Vechten, a political scientist at the University of Redlands, in California. “We’re seeing laws that need updating, and that’s the least sexy part of the job.”“
Emphasis added.

& more from the above:

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that short-term legislators aren’t prone to engage in long-term thinking.”
In California, researchers found that term limits had the following negative effects on the state legislature: the “new” legislators, while in some ways more female & minority populated, behaved much like their predecessors. Many of this “citizen legislators” simply run for another office once they reach the term limit imposed on them. The committees of the legislature report out fewer bills &”[T]he practice of ‘hijacking’ Assembly bills...has increased sharply.” There is less stability & expertise in the California legislature since the implementation of term limits. & here’s another item the report notes: “Special interest money still flows in roughly the same proportions to Senate and Assembly leaders and in ever-rising amounts; term limits have not eased the burden of fundraising in any way.”

Emphasis added.

& now let’s go to Ohio.

“Whoever said the cure can be worse than the disease could have been talking about term limits for those elected to political office.”
“In addition, knowing their time in office will be limited, no matter how good a job they do, can discourage individuals from running, especially those who are most qualified and may do the best job.”
“ More of today's legislators come from the political left or right, rather than the center where the views of most Ohioans tend to fall. That means many of those responsible for making our laws aren't in touch with the concerns and views of average Ohioans.” (Well, well, SideKick. What do you make of this?)
“Term limits have had another negative effect. With less time in office, legislators are less able to understand the long-term impact of such actions as underfunding education and the pressing need to reform Ohio's tax code as the state moves from a manufacturing-based economy to one that relies on research and service industries.”
Emphasis aded.

Had enough, oh venerable SideKick? Didn’t think so. On to Florida & this:

Term limits have done nothing to reduce the naked pursuit of power for ego's sake. The coup orchestrated 10 days ago to strip Miami Sen. Alex Villalobos of his designation as Senate president in 2008 proved that -- and more. If anything, term limits have made the obsession with political dealing worse.”
Emphasis added.

I could go on & on, but I think you get the picture. The term limit cry is simply red meat for those that really don’t believe in politics. They believe that the term professional politician is derogatory, rather than an expression of understanding the need for professionalism in politics. This doesn’t mean that a politician ought not stand up & speak truth to power. But it means that politics, like any other human activity, requires knowledge, time, & practice in order for it to become something. They believe that the past was somehow more pristine, more civil, less tainted by money. That, too, is a false perception & is fodder for another really long post.


Shutterwi said...

I'm still not convinced.

making the mistakes previous bodies made years ago and learn the intricacies of the budgetary process, which doesn't allow them to make informed decisions
Like building the bridge to nowhere.

but I think we already have term limits in this country. They’re called elections. Every two, four or six years, the voters have the opportunity to replace every elected member of our government.

Can you say Tom Delay and gerrymandering?
Ya the voter gets to replace elected officials. Congressional retirements help.

And why would Fred Barnes want to change the current system? It's working pretty good for him and his cronies. I wonder how he feels about public financing? Any guesses?

But the bigger problem with term limits is that it would shift the legislative power from the accountable to the unaccountable
Would that be more unaccountable than the current elected (gerrymander)legislators?

other term limit[ed] states, is [are] experiencing an added phenomenon: the orphaned program, vulnerable to reduction or elimination because of the forced retirement of its champions
Oh! So that's how Bush has managed to cut money for education, health care, veterans benefits, the environment, Katrina funding and so on and so on. All of the champions have retired.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that short-term legislators aren’t prone to engage in long-term thinking.
Is that longer term thinking than to the next election like we have now?

Until Diebold is gone from Ohio and they stop stealing elections and empowering the IDers Ohio is a lost cause.

What can you find out about the Fairness Doctrine?

Shutterwi said...

On more quick thought.

How do you feel about George W. Bush being TERM LIMTED?

Any thought about Alito and Roberts?

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