Friday, November 14, 2008


Why Term Limits?

I don't like term limits. That is, I don't like the absolute term limits that California and many other States have adopted. I would be willing to settle for a kind of limit that specifies that a person may not be reelected to a position that he has held for X consecutive terms. Then, after serving X terms, an official would relinquish the position for one election cycle (or more, as he chooses).

Term limits came to California in the late '80's or early 90's. I don't remember the year that the voters enacted them. I know that much of the enthusiam at the time for term limits was that it seemed to be the only way to get rid of Willie Brown, the very powerful Speaker of the Assembly. It was clear that his constituents were never going to vote him out of office. It was also clear that as long as he was a member of the Assembly, he would retain the position of Speaker - that is, as long as the Democrats were the majority party.

The campaign to {oust Willie} establish term limits in California was formed by an alliance of two groups. One group was made up of some idealistic citizens who thought that professional politicians were a bad lot and something had to be done to prevent individuals from making a career of holding elective office. One of their slogans was "let the office holder come back home and live under the laws that he or she has enacted." Another group was made up of realistic citizens who chafed at Speaker Brown and wanted to get rid of him.

At least, that's my opinion.

The success of term limits all over the country is a tribute to the ability of the two groups, the idealists and the realists, to work together even though they differed on many of their goals. The people who wanted to get rid of Speaker Brown were perfectly happy with the concept of professional politician. They just wanted a different Speaker.

The idealists must by now recognize that their reform has not gotten rid of professional politicians. Here in California the pros simply play musical chairs. You get ahead in politics by serving your six years in the Assembly, followed by eight years in the Senate. After that you can run for any of the state-wide offices, such as Attorney General, Treasurer, Controller, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Superintendant of Public Instruction, Insurance Commissioner, and so on.

I think it is time to take a look at the current term limits restrictions and make some realistic modifications. One suggestion is to extend X, the number of terms. My approach is to stipulate X consecutive terms, followed by either sitting out for one election cycle, or running for a different office and later returning to the original office for another X terms.

What do you think?

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