Thursday, June 07, 2012
About Term Limits for Legislators and other Elected Officials
Another argument in favor of life time term limits is that an important benefit of the power of an elected office is the personal gain that an individual may achieve by virtue of occupying the office for many years. We all disapprove of elected officials who become rich in office. The office should not be a source of wealth but a trust granted by the voters to provide honest and fair governance. Therefore, the term of the office should not be long enough for the occupant to acquire great wealth. At the very least, if the office does provide wealth for the occupant, it should be passed around so that others can share in the bounty.
I reject these arguments. I reject the notion that there is inherently something shameful and dishonest about being a politician. A politician is one who knows how to get things done by making compromises with other politicians. We have seen in recent years the folly of trying to enact a law or begin a program with the support of only one party. Bipartisan support is essential in crafting any new important law or starting any new and beneficial program. Getting support from members of the other party is what expert politicians are good at. We need them. If they are termed out of office for life, we lose their valuable services.
During my time in California one of the most useful members of the Legislature was Frank Lanterman. He is not remembered for any important legislation that he authored. He is remembered for being an expert at making compromises that members of both political parties could agree to, even if reluctantly. It happened that he was a Republican, but that made no difference. He was not a "small government" ideologue. He was a believer in getting things done. Who in the California legislature today can fill the shoes of this man?
Although I feel strongly that imposing life time term limits on elected officials, particularly legislators, is a mistake, I am willing to accept a limit on consecutive terms. Let us suppose that a legislator has a limit of eight years at a time. After eight years in, say, the Assembly, he can not be immediately reelected to that body. He can run for a position in the Senate. After eight years in the Senate, he can then return to the Assembly. Alternatively, he can take a two-year vacation and then be elected again to the Assembly for another eight years. In this way we can keep the expertise of the good compromisers (successors of Frank Lanterman) and at the same time have an opportunity to break up the careers of those who simply want to serve as a legislator for the power that accrues after a long and continuous time in office.
What should I call term limits that do not last a life time but merely limit the number of consecutive terms a person can serve at a time? Are these interim limit, consecutive limits, or what? Please write.