Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TERM LIMITS FOR ALL amendment introduced!

It's official. Sen. Jim DeMint has introduced a bill to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit the terms of the U.S. Congress.

If the proposal becomes law, Senators will be limited to two terms (12 years) and Representatives will be limited to three (six years). The text of the bill and amendment can be found here.

The amendment is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas). As an amendment to the Constitution, it would require a two-thirds majority vote approval in the House and Senate and must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

"Americans know real change in Washington will never happen until we end the era of permanent politicians," said Senator DeMint. "As long as members have the chance to spend their lives in Washington, their interests will always skew toward spending taxpayer dollars to buyoff special interests, covering over corruption in the bureaucracy, fundraising, relationship building among lobbyists, and trading favors for pork – in short, amassing their own power. I have come to realize that if we want to change the policies coming out of Congress, we must change the process itself. Over the last 20 years, Washington politicians have been reelected about 90% of the time because the system is heavily tilted in favor of incumbents. If we really want to put an end to business as usual, we’ve got to have new leaders coming to Washington instead of rearranging the deck chairs as the ship goes down.”

He's right. And now we have some work to do.

First, please call your Senator and ask him or her to become a cosponsor of this amendment. Second, please sign our on-line petition to show your support for Sen. DeMint's amendment. Third, send around the petition link to your friends and family and urge them to sign the petition. Fourth, write a letter to the editor announcing the bill and your support of it. Be sure to include how your Senators stand on the issue.

Our most recent polling shows 83% of Americans support term limits. Hence, this should be a done deal. But our system is broken. This amendment is a big step toward fixing it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Sen. DeMint to drop term limits bill!

Great news: Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) will soon be launching a Constitutional amendment bill to limit terms of the U.S. Congress!

I am often asked by reporters and talk radio hosts what it would take to achieve Congressional term limits. It is a big project and will take the right conditions to get the job done.

First, I say, we need the people on our side. Check.

Second, we need historically low approval ratings on Congress. Check.

Third, we need political leadership. Check?

Yes, it looks we finally have that too. The remarks below are excerpted from U.S. Senator Jim DeMint’s podcast of October 22, 2009. Senator DeMint, who voluntarily limited his tenure in the House of Representatives to three terms, is announcing the imminent launch of a bill to Constitutionally limit terms.

Take it away, Sen. DeMint:

"The longer I stay in Washington, the more I have come to realize that the problem in the federal government isn't just the people...it’s the process.

"The system itself is so much more powerful than either party or interest group, let alone one president or congressional leader. In Washington, the rules of the game are rigged—in favor of bigger government, higher taxes, more debt, and the time-honored system of political back-scratching of 'go along to get along.

"The fact is, party doesn’t matter when it comes to reform. If you want to change the policies, you have to change the process. That’s why in the next few weeks I will introduce a new constitutional amendment to limit members of the House of Representatives to three terms (which is six years), and members of the Senate to two terms (which is twelve years).

"As long as members have the chance to spend their lives in Washington, their interests will always skew toward fundraising, relationship building among lobbyists, and trading favors for pork—in short, amassing their own power. Since all that power is going to disappear in a few years anyway, term-limited legislators will be far less likely to make compromises with the system.

"Opponents of term limits say that the nation needs wise and seasoned leaders to lead the nation through crises and find consensus on difficult issues. Well, that’s exactly what we’ve got now.... How do you think it’s working out for us? It wasn’t the People who gave us a 12-trillion dollar debt, trillion-dollar deficits, 100-trillion-dollar long term shortfall in Social Security and Medicare, the Wall Street and auto bailouts, and the health care takeover. It was those wise and seasoned leaders, who enjoy lives of privilege almost wholly immune from the consequences of their policy failures.

"Term limits are not enough, of course. I hope my amendment will eventually be ratified, and then followed by other structural reforms to make our public institutions more transparent and accountable. But term limits are a good start. Because if we really want reform, we all know it’s not enough just to change the congressmen—we have to change Congress itself."

The fourth thing we need to win is for grass roots activists to raise such a clamor that this bill cannot be ignored and Congress members are afraid to vote against it.

So please, right now, go to the U.S. Terms Limits website and sign the on-line petition reiterating Sen. DeMint's call for term limits. And send around the link to all your friends and associates of all political persuasions.

If not now, when?

After vet fiasco, Florida pol returns with new anti-term limit gimmick

Oh no, not again. Florida State Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) is back pitching a Constitutional amendment to weaken Florida’s popular and successful 8-year term limits law.

Bennett is not so deaf to the will of voters that he doesn’t recognize the popularity of the law he is attacking. It’s just that he doesn’t care. He knows he has to come up with some way to get around voter sentiment, so he has once again been rummaging around the bottom of the careerist politician garbage pail for ideas.

Last session, he tacked an anti-term limits amendment to a bill that would extend a popular property tax discount to a broader group of disabled veterans. He got jeers and laughs, but not the votes.

This session he is hawking a new gimmick to fire up support for incumbent entrenchment. His new offer you can’t refuse -- according to the Tampa Tribune’s Catherine Dolinski – is to extend 12-year term limits to city and county offices as well. Get it? That way, he can claim a vote for this bill is a vote for term limits!

Of course, citizens in all the counties and cities that worked so hard to collect the signatures for, not to mention all the voters that approved, all the existing local 8-year term limits referenda may object. But they weren’t going to support Bennett’s bill anyway. With this clever stroke, he aims to clinch the support of local term-limited incumbents throughout the state and many term limits supporters who may not be paying close enough attention.

Will it be enough? I doubt it. Such a proposal would have to go to the voters first, and the threshold for Constitutional amendments is 60%. We must be vigilant always, of course, but right now the only attention his new idea demands is a rolling of the eyes.

Schwarzenegger and those 'crazy' term limits

Term limits activism is empowering and often thrilling, but there are some repetitive aspects of it that just get downright tedious. Number one on the list is the phenomenon of the politician who runs for office calling for term limits, becomes part of the power structure, and then turns his or her back on term limits and the voters who love them.

Take California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Referring to former state Sen. Jack Scott, the governor recently opined that he “was termed out because we have these crazy term limits here in California and people that are that experienced like him then have to leave and move on.”

No. What’s crazy is thinking that out of 36.7 million people, only the elite political class of individuals are “experienced” enough to hold public office.

In 2003, as a candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger said: “My campaign for governor is based on the concept that California's state government belongs to the people, not the career politicians. As we are now seeing with the state's budget crisis and anti-business policies, it is too easy for the politicians to become disconnected from the people they are supposed to represent. That is why I believe in citizen legislators and yes, even citizen governors. It is also why I am such a strong believer in term limits.”

Funny what a few years in public office does to a politician. In 2008, Schwarzenegger turned against term limits and sided with the political establishment when he endorsed Proposition 93, a ballot measure that, had it not been defeated, would have weakened term limits.

What logic is there in rewarding the very legislators that are leading the state to the brink by extending their terms to allow them to 'serve' more?

In fact, logic requires that we move the opposite direction. California has the highest paid legislators in the country and they work all year 'round. The careerist impulse may have been tempered in California by term limits, but it is not enough. The perks of power are just too sweet for California pols who will clearly do anything to keep their cozy jobs.

Instead, we get claims that are truly crazy: thinking that the political establishment just needs more time to fix the very problems for which its own antics are so glaringly responsible.

Schwarzenegger knew better in 2003. The people of California know better in 2009. And they assuredly will defeat SCA 24—yet another proposed constitutional amendment to weaken term limits—in 2010.

(See my op-ed on this subject in the Oct. 31 edition of the L.A. Times.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Colombia's Uribe to skirt term limit -- again

Here we go again: Latin American leader loves power, won’t respect Constitutional term limit. The latest in this growing queue of dishonor is Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Of course, he's been on this ride before.

Uribe goaded the lower House yesterday into approving a referendum to relax the country’s constitutional term limit and continue to hold office for a third term. The vote was 85-5 with 76 abstentions. The bill has already passed the Colombian Senate. Keep in mind this is the second time the term limit – originally one four-year term – has been relaxed for Uribe. The first time was in 2005.

Uribe's 2005 victory over term limits emboldened Hugo Chavez of Venezuela who famously announced, bluntly and accurately, that “Chavez is not leaving, Chavez stays…” It took Chavez two referenda to get the job done. In the first in 2007 he had not used sufficient bribery or intimidation to get it through, but by the second in early 2009 he had got the recipe right. Ecuador's Rafael Correa and Bolivia's Evo Morales changed their constitutions -- and term limits -- shortly thereafter.

President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was less fortunate. It turns out Honduras is not constitutionally permitted to have a referendum to relax term limits. His illegal insistence on doing so got him kicked out of his country in a bloodless coup.

Clearly, there is a good reason for this extra constitutional precaution in Honduras. Latin America has a history of caudillos who will not relinquish power, ever. As a result, Constitutional reforms were made across the region to protect nations from presidents consolidating sufficient power to organize mass constituencies, bribe legislators and steal elections, establishing permanent Castro-like (or U.S. Congressman-like!) incumbency.

In the United States, we view term limits as a good government reform that empowers citizens relative to public officials. To view term limits so casually is a luxury of our stable democracy. In Latin America and many other parts of the world, term limits are one of the last safeguards against tyranny.

Next in line: Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, who is currently promoting a referendum for a new constitution that ditches term limits.

In light of this this continent-wide attack on democracy and rotation in office, one has to respect Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who has announced numerous times that he would respect his nation’s constitution and will not seek a third term. “I think that the transfer of power is essential for democracy,” he said.

Lula’s right. And it takes a term limit with teeth to ensure a transfer of power.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rand Paul: Like Father, Like Son

Following the announcement earlier this month that incumbent and fellow Republican Jim Bunning is not going to seek reelection, Rand Paul officially declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate representing Kentucky.

Paul, a 40-something opthalmologist from Bowling Green, has never held political office but he has gained quite a bit of campaign experience from helping his father, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, and name recognition through his leadership of the Kentucky Taxpayers United, an activist organization affiliated with the National Taxpayers Union. He said he would go to Washington as a true citizen legislator.

Like his father, Rand is a supporter of Congressional term limits. In a recent interview with the Liberty Maven blog, he was asked if he supported term limits and whether he was willing to term limit himself. Paul was clear: "I support both a Constitutional amendment and/or legislation if it could be done Constitutionally. Voluntary term limits have not worked because the good Congressmen kept the pledge and went home and the creeps broke their pledges and stayed. Also, only a very small percentage, maybe ten to fifteen, ever were elected with a voluntary pledge." Fair enough.

He is currently leading with this popular message in his stump speeches. Early polling show Paul to be a contender and his fundraising has been phenomenal so far, bringing in over $740,000 in just a few months, including a Kentucky record of $430,000 in one day.

Last year another committed term limits supporter -- Florida's Rep. Tom Rooney -- snuck into Congress. Maybe we'll see another, perhaps many others, in 2010. After all, polls show popular support for term limits at an all-time high and incumbents at a low.

Let's pop this question to all Congressional candidates during the next election cycle: Do you support Congressional term limits?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Luther Martin, term limits prophet

I am reading an informative and humorous little book called Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin by Bill Kauffman. Martin was a representative of Maryland at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and an example -- exasperating to many -- of the so-called anti-federalists who feared the new Constitution would centralize new and nearly unlimited national powers. To protect Americans' liberties, the antis clamored for, among other things, a Bill of Rights and term limits. They got the former but not the latter.

In the debates over term limits, Virginian George Mason -- often called the father of the Bill of Rights -- pointed out that "nothing is so essential to the preservation of a republican government as a periodical rotation."

Martin argued vociferously, as apparently it was the only way he knew how, that the entrenched politician "will take his family to the place where the government shall be fixed; that will become his home, and there is every reason to expect, that his future views and prospects will centre in the favors and emoluments of the general government." It is in lines like these that Luther earned the title 'prophet' in the book's title.

But not only the anti-federalists feared an entrenched incumbency. Federalist G. Livingston of New York imagined the elite life of political lifers thusly:

In this Eden they will reside with their families, distant from the observation of the people. In such a situation, men are apt to forget their dependence, lose their sympathy and contract selfish habits ... The senators will associate only with men of their own class, and thus become strangers to the condition of the common people. They should not only return, and be obliged to live with the people, but return to their former rank of citizenship, both to revive their sense of dependence and to gain a knowledge of the country.

The anti-federalists are labeled by history as the losers in the Constitutional battle, but their many contributions to the Constitution -- tributes to their obstinancy and adherence to principle -- greatly improved that document and helped it preserve rather than threaten liberty.

Time has proven the antis correct on term limits. However, to be fair, it took quite a while for their dark predictions to materialize, as rotation in office was so much part of the revolutionary (small-R) republican creed that it wasn't until the turn of the 20th century that the professional politician became the norm in the Congress and legislatures across the country.

Many of the delegates who supported rotation in office but felt that term limits were unnecessary never dreamed of Congress members holding their seats for decades. The antis did, and slept fitfully upon leaving Philadelphia.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tea partiers: Term limits now!

The "tea party" movement is no longer a one-time phenomenon in response to corporate bailouts, stimulus spending, money supply inflation and ballooning government debt. On July 4, over 1,300 more tea party demonstrations were scheduled across the country and -- once again -- calls for term limits were ubiquitous at these events.

It is no wonder. Unemployment is approaching double digits and companies and banks are closing their doors every week. The stock and real estate markets are in the tank. But while people are suffering from the bust, the federal government is enjoying a boom. It is playing the profitable game of Reverse Robin Hood: using the crisis as cover for taking money from the public to bail out and/or pay off specific corporations, banks, unions and other important political constituents.

If citizens believe they are not being represented, they are correct. Incumbent Congress members retake their seats about 95% of the time with minimum of effort, as they either run unchallenged or face vastly underfunded challengers, often gadflies. They hold these seats for decades and then run the Congress by right of seniority. As demonstrated by the Cato Institute, tenure in office is highly correlated to increased spending patterns. Hence, the unbeatable who spend the most run the show.

This is true under Obama and Pelosi as it was under Bush and DeLay. Clearly, last November's election didn't provide the change it promised. Real change will require severing the comfortable relationships between entrenched incumbents and special interests. It will require citizen access to reins of government via rotation in office.

Heed the voters in the streets: it will require term limits.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Honduran military steps in to enforce presidential term limit

Like his mentor Hugo Chavez, (former?) Honduran President Manuel Zelaya needed to get around his country's constitutional term limit to hold on and extend his power over this Latin American country.

While the president has no power under Honduran law to hold a referendum to make consitutional changes, the president announced he would do so anyway. When the nation's army chief Gen. Romeo Vasquez refused to distribute the ballots for the illegal election, he was fired. When the Honduran Supreme Court mandated the reinstatement of Vazquez, Zelaya refused.

The army put down Zelaya's attempted coup with a coup of its own.

"Zelaya has provoked this institutional crisis," said Michael Shifter, a Latin American analyst at Washington's Inter-American Dialogue. "He seems to have a very strong appetite for power. He's trying to be the victim, but he won't get a lot of sympathy by defying the country's institutions."

In the United States, we view term limits as a good government reform that empowers citizens relative to public officials. To view term limits so casually is a luxury of our stable democracy.
In many other parts of the world, term limits are one of the last safeguards against tyranny.

If the action by the military is in good faith, it will soon step aside and permit the elected rotation in office that the Honduran constitution requires and the people deserve. The interim leader, Roberto Micheletti, says that presidential elections will be held as scheduled and that he will step down in January when Zelaya's term would normally expire. We'll see. One of the temptations of power that make term limits so crucial is that politicians always believe that they are indispensible. This hubris comes with the job.

In Colombia, president Alvaro Uribe is next in line to try to overturn his presidential term limits, although like American politicians he is relying solely on legal machinations to hold on to his power. Stay tuned, as the Latin American term limits saga continues.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Entrenched incumbency a result of 'stupidity?'

The Wall Street Journal today published a letter I wrote in response to an anti-term limits letter. Here it is:


In his May 11 letter ("Haven't You Noticed Term Limits Are in the Constitution"), Thomas J. Miranda claims that "the Constitution already provides for term limits," but that people "are too stupid" to do their constitutional duty and vote their representatives out of office.

He is right that over 90% of U.S. House incumbents are routinely re-elected to their seats, but "stupidity" is not the explanation. In 2008, 55 incumbent seats went unchallenged. In many more seats, the incumbent was challenged by a drastically underfunded candidate who didn't receive meaningful support from their own party. And many of these were simply gadflies.

This situation did not occur because people are stupid, but for the very rational reason that against such odds it does not pay for successful, goal-oriented people to run for office against incumbents. It is rational for parties to avoid using limited resources on unwinnable seats. Meanwhile, special interests quite rationally fill the coffers of and maintain their relationships with entrenched incumbents.

For these reasons among others, voters get lousy choices and incumbents are practically unbeatable. Term limits would change this dynamic by providing open, competitive races at regular intervals in every congressional seat. It's a smart idea.

Philip Blumel
Atlantis, Fla.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Term limits a hit at Tax Day tea parties

Since Rick Santelli made his call for a new Boston Tea Party on CNBC in February, activists have been throwing tea party demonstrations across the nation protesting corporate bailouts and economic 'stimulus.' Then on April 15, citizens across America participated in over 800 tea parties on a single day. Spontaneously, the call for term limits was heard at many or most of these rallies.

I saw term limits signs at the tea parties I attended in West Palm Beach and Tallahassee, Florida, and on the rally coverage they showed on CNBC. Everyone I talked to saw term limits signs at their rallies too, and a Google and YouTube search shows that term limits signs were ubiquitous. No organization was promoting this; it was a spontaneous display of citizen conviction.

It is quite natural when you think about it. The frustration that led to the rallies is the recognition that the Congress (with the Treasury and The Fed) are doling out trillions to special interests even as the people suffering from a deep recession. Clearly, these citizens feel that the U.S. Congress is not representing them, but instead AIG, Bank of America, Freddie and Fannie, General Motors, the United Auto Workers, etc. This helpless feeling in the face of special interest influence is the same that pulls citizens into the term limits movement.

Citizens are correct they are not being represented. Incumbent Congress members retake their seats about 95% of the time with minimum of effort, as they either run unchallenged or face vastly underfunded challengers, often gadflies. They hold these seats for decades and then run the Congress by right of seniority. As demonstrated by the Cato Institute, tenure in office is highly correlated to increased spending patterns. Hence, the unbeatable who spend the most run the show.

The only solution is the lost American tradition of rotation in office, where citizens can generate genuine change at the ballot box if they are sufficiently motivated. The 94.8% reelection rate we saw in the U.S. House in November is not 'change' not matter how presidents or pundits try to spin it. And, hence, we are getting the same thing we have gotten for the last decade -- more spending, more debt, more economic intervention.

If we want a stop to skyrocketing spending, debt, bailouts and the taxes that are a necessary consequence, we need representatives that are closer to the people. The nation should heed the tea partiers' call for term limits.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Door slams shut on NYC term limits

Like when someone is dying from a long illness, you might fully expect it but it still hurts when the day arrives.

On April 28, a federal appeals court dismissed the lawsuit against New York City's overturning of the term limits law duly enacted and then reaffirmed by popular referenda in 1993 and 1996. After internal polling showed voters would yet again affirm term limits again in 2008, Mayor Bloomberg -- who desperately wanted to serve a third term -- decided to simply ignore the earlier referenda and lengthened term limits from 8 to 12 years via a simple council vote. Oh yes, it lengthened the terms of the council too. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

As this move nullified two citizen referenda, a group of citizens rose up to fight it in the courts. As summarized by the New York Times, they had three main arguments:

  1. The term-limits extension violated First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because it did not allow voters to be part of the decision and because it was approved by the same elected officials who will benefit from it.
  2. It violated a state law that mandates a referendum to modify or annul any law enacted by one.
  3. It violated the city’s conflict of interest regulations because it conferred a political benefit to the elected officials who approved it.
No dice, the Second Circuit Court said Tuesday. But the court did recognize that "[s]ome feel that [governor and city council's action] disregards the will of the people as expressed by the 1993 Voter Initiative and 1996 Referendum" and that this "may be a justifiable reaction."

Yes, the court is right about that much.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oklahoma pondering logical next step

In 1990, Oklahoma was the first state to vote in term limits for its state legislature. Nearly 20 years later, the success of this experiment is encouraging the state government to extend term limits to cover more elective government offices.

The Oklahoma legislature and the governor are term limited. But if voters approve a constitutional amendment in November 2010, 8-year term limits will also be imposed on politicians employed as lieutenant governor, state auditor and inspector, attorney general, state treasurer, labor commissioner, state schools superintendent and insurance commissioner to serve no more than eight cumulative years in office.

Currently, the governor is limited to eight consecutive years but, if the amendment passes, will also be limited to eight cumulative years.

"Since term limits were approved by the people for the state legislature, there is increasingly a wide mix of backgrounds and careers found at the state capitol," said House Speaker Chris Benge. "This change will ensure fresh faces and new ideas are continuously entering the political process."

Indeed, a recent study suggests that term-limited Oklahoma – although not without its specific problems and challenges – has been one of the best-managed states in the nation.

Odds favor another term limits victory at the polls. The people continue to love term limits as much as lobbyists despise them. In a July 2007 poll by Pulse Consulting, 77 percent answered ‘yes’ to the following question: "In 2008, Oklahoma voters may be asked to vote on a measure that would establish term limits for statewide elected officials. If approved, the new law would create eight-year term limits on executive offices. If this measure were on the ballot today, would you vote for or against it?" Only 17 percent said they would vote against it.

Citizens and a couple of committed legislators have been pushing for this idea for some time. A similar bill failed in the 2008 legislative session. One wonders if the recent heavy-handed attempt by the Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson to crack down on citizen petitioning has given new impetus to the effort to expand the state’s most successful citizen initiative campaign ever. The new term limit would, after all, apply to him.

Or perhaps its success this year is due more to the economic crisis, which is forcing legislators to make tough spending decisions in light of dropping revenues. It is in such times that the flexibility of term-limited legislators versus entrenched incumbents -- with their long-term relationships with special interests -- becomes that much clearer.

Of course, there are other, more permanent reasons. Term limits bring fresh ideas and a broader range of experience to these positions and discourage corruption. Plus, as political scientist Rick Farmer of Akron University has pointed out, Oklahoma has an incumbent reelection rate over 90 percent, just like everywhere else. Citizen access and change can only effectively occur in open, competitive races – the kind term limits mandate every eight years.

This amendment can also be seen as a corrective to one arguable defect of the 1990 law: the fact that some of the state elective officials were term limited (governor, legislature) and some were not (lt. governor, other constitutional officers). This amendment puts these positions back on a level playing field.

Special thanks are in order for long-time term limits supporter Sen. Randy Brogdon (Owasso) and Rep. Jason Murphey (Guthrie) for their work to get this amendment to the people.

Now it's up to us.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Florida pol uses disabled vets for cover

I thought that this year's booby prize for hubris was securely held by South Dakota's attempt to cripple term limits just months after a statewide voter referendum reaffirmed them. But that was before news arrived from Florida.

A bill has been floated in the Florida State Senate by Sen. Dave Aronberg (D-Greenacres) that would extend a popular property tax discount to a broader group of disabled veterans. Who could vote against that, right? Well, that's what Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) thinks too, so he's used his power as chair of the Senate Community Affairs to tack on an unrelated amendment to extend term limits from eight to 12 years!

Never mind that Florida voters labored to put the 8-year term limit on the ballot and then approved it at the polls by 77 percent in 1992. Or that the legislature's last attempt to gut the law in 2005 was timidly retracted in the face of active citizen outrage. Or that for most of Florida's term limits period, the state has been considered among the best managed in America.

Sen. Bennett claims that he is not doing this just for himself, and there is surely truth to this. After all, Sen. Bennett has distinguished himself as a special interest robot, submitting legislation at the behest of nearly every lobby under the Florida sun. So far this session, he has submitted over 70 bills, more than any other legislator.

Sen. Aronberg is not an innocent victim either, in case your wondering. He is on record supporting the amendment, which makes you wonder if this bill's only real purpose is to serve as cover for these guys' political machinations.

Fortunately, the bill would have to go through the House first, and House Majority Leader Adam Hasner (R-Delray Beach) is skeptical. "I think this is disrespectful to those men and women who have served our country and are disable veterans," he said, predicting its demise in the House. But, if it passed the House, it would still have to be approved by a 60 percent majority of the voters on the 2010 ballot.

Fat chance! But in spite of the fact that the outcome of such an election is nearly certain, experience from other states indicate that millions would be spent by special interests to topple term limits and a good deal of personal contributions of time, money and effort of voters would be required to defend the law.

Isn't this kind of arrogance part of the reason we support term limits in the first place?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

James Frevert, hero

There are some people – although not nearly enough of them – who are successful in their life's work, but who don’t stop there. They take the time to acquire a understanding of the value of the free society we live in and make it a personal mission to preserve and improve it. Civil society requires such men and women to survive and prosper.

James Frevert of North Palm Beach, Fla., was one of them. Jim died on Friday at age 86.

For as long as I have known him, at least 25 years, Jim had dedicated time and resources to educational and civic causes. It is for one of these that I owe him personal thanks.

In 2001-02, I was campaign manager for a citizens referendum in Palm Beach County to limit the terms of our county commissioners to eight years in office. We had over 75 petitioners and contributors that helped put the issue on the ballot and, in November 2002, 60% of voters approved the term limit and it became law.

All of the volunteers played an important role in the victory, but a few of them were decisive. The truth is that without Jim Frevert, the outcome would have been different. In fact, the effort would never have got off the ground. Please note, he derived no personal gain from this campaign, but acted only to further what he thought was right and proper. I don't think his name ever even made the papers.

When the first Palm Beach County Commissioner is term limited out in 2010, please take a moment to remember Jim Frevert.

I had the opportunity to thank him in life, but my gratitude is such that I wanted to share it with you. He was a world traveler, as everyone who knew him knows, but more than that he also really cared about the world. He set an example for us to follow. He will be missed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A step toward dictatorship in Venezuela

"Those who voted 'yes' today voted for socialism," President Hugo Chavez crowed after his victory in Sunday's national referendum to overturn Venezuela's term limits law for all offices.

Unsuccessful in his first attempt in December 2007, Chavez pulled out all stops utilizing his vast national resources and network of recipients of government largesse. His ads dominated the state-controlled media and pressure was put on his nearly 2 million state employees to campaign and vote for the measure. He also slyly broadened the term limit repeal to all offices, earning him a much broader range of influential supporters desperate to see the constitutional amendment pass. It did, with 54% of the vote.

Chavez told supporters the election was a mandate to speed his transformation of Venezuela into a socialist state. In celebration, he sent fireworks flying over the rooftops of the city while his supporters filled the streets, waving red flags and honking their car horns.

While some fraud certainly played a role, it appears so far that it was the rapidly growing powers of the Chavez incumbency that carried the day. And now, it will be permanent.

Opposition leader Omar Barboza said Chavez power is enormous with the courts, legislature and electoral council under his thumb. Term limits were the last thing limiting his ambitions.

"Effectively this will become a dictatorship," Barboza told The Associated Press. "It's control of all the powers, lack of separation of powers, unscrupulous use of state resources, persecution of adversaries."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The immortal presidency of Saint Obama

In the afterglow of the immaculate coronation of our new savior-president, the idea has been floated to allow Barack Obama to serve for life.

Thomas Jefferson would not approve. In 1807, the two-term president and term limits supporter wrote: “If some termination to the services of the chief magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution or supplied in practice, his office, nominally for years, will in fact become for life; and history shows how easily that degenerates into an inheritance.”

Our first president set the precedent, declining to run for a third term, believing that unlimited tenure is unrepublican. Jefferson signalled his intention to follow suit in 1805, when he wrote to John Taylor that "General Washington set the example of voluntary retirement after eight years. I shall follow it, and a few more precedents will oppose the obstacle of habit to anyone after a while who shall endeavor to extend his term. Perhaps it may beget a disposition to establish it by an amendment of the Constitution."

Eventually, we did, with the passage of the 22nd Amendment in 1947 after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the first president to violate our revolutionary tradition of term limits.

However, in January it was reported that the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary was considering a bill from Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), H. J. Res. 5, which, according to the bill’s language, proposes "an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as president."

The proposal is so contrary to the both founding American traditions and the current public will that I doubt it will even pick up cosponsors, but it is a sparkling example of how power worships power and -- again in Jefferson's words -- freedom requires eternal vigilance.

South Dakota: If first you don't succeed...

Term limits touch the most delicate nerve in the body of a professional politician. Sometimes it seems like the prospect of having to find another job -- or even face a competitive campaign for another office -- is akin to death for them. They'll go to any length to hang on to the perks and power. Their machinations can be remarkably brazen.

Consider South Dakota. In 1992, 64% of South Dakotans voted to limits the terms of their legislators to eight years in office. Politicians tried to unshackle themselves last year, putting a term limits repeal on the ballot in November 2008. This time 76% of voters embraced eight-year term limits and rejected the repeal.

Ah, but that was three months ago. On Feb. 9, the South Dakota Senate approved 21-14 a bill (SJR3) that would lengthen the South Dakota term limit to 12 years. Maybe the voters changed their mind over the holidays? No, polling from last week show that 68% oppose the proposed longer terms and even expose citizen anger that the issue is being brought up again.

How are the politicians going to sell this to the voters after such a resounding support for term limits in November? Looking at other states may provide a clue.

Ever since term limits were imposed on state legislatures in the 1990s, professional politicians have been searching for the right way to package a term limits repeal. They haven't found it yet, as every attempt to sell a repeal to voters have failed at the ballot box, including three times (California, Maine and South Dakota) in the last year alone. The politicians have had the best success, relatively speaking, when they can craft an anti-term limits bill that they can market as being pro-term limits.

That's what they are attempting in South Dakota. SJR3 would increase the length of Senate terms to four years from the current two, a change which -- under the current 4-term limit -- would actually stretch the term limit out to 16 years. So, SJR3 would also "strengthen" South Dakota's term limits by reducing the limit from four terms to three. Get it? Voting for SJR3 would make South Dakota's term limits law tougher!

Experience in other states (California tried a trick like this last February) shows that their scheme might poll well at the beginning, backed by a hunk of special interest money, but by election time the trick will be exposed and term limits will win again no much how much public resources are wasted in the attempt.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Case against OK3 dropped

With the 10th U.S. Court of Appeals -- as well as simple honesty and decency -- weighing in against him, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson relented and withdrew his politically motivated legal attack on the Oklahoma 3.

If you recall, in December the court struck down as unconstitutional the law that Edmondson was using to threaten Rick Carpenter, a Tulsa political activist; Susan Johnson, head of National Voter Outreach; and Paul Jacob, president of Citizens in Charge and former executive director of U.S. Term Limits. Edmondson responded not with an apology, but with an attempt to save the unconstitutional law. Fortunately, the court refused Edmondson's request for a rehearing and he was forced to concede.

There are two key lessons to take from this case.

First, the political class will go to great lengths to oppose any limitations on their power. The measures that arouse the ire of Edmondson and his enablers were the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a measure to cap state spending; the other, a property rights measure called Protect Our Homes. The fact that these limitations on government were being advanced through citizen referenda made them ever the more threatening to the Oklahoma establishment.

Second, the good guys often win and it is worth our time to try. The First Amendment guarantees our right to petition the government and because of the OK3 case we have another precedent that this all-important amendment is still in force. Let's use it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hugo Chavez pushing his limits

In the United States, we view term limits as a good government reform that empowers citizens relative to public officials. To view term limits so casually is a luxury of our stable democracy.

In many other parts of the world, instability and authoritarian ideologies raise the stakes for such reforms. In shaky democracies like Venezuela, term limits are one of the last safeguards against tyranny.

Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has been successfully consolidating power through nationalization of businesses, closing down opposition media, sharing his oil money with supporters and fixing elections. Now, for the second time in three years, Chavez is trying to make his exalted position permanent by abolishing presidential term limits. Fortunately, to do so requires a popular vote and Chavez isn't yet secure enough in his power to simply strike down the term limits by decree. However, he will try to fiddle with the election results. The election will likely be held in March.

In response, people have taken to the streets. In the words of the Associated Press caption to the Jan. 14 photo above, "Venezuelan riot police fired rubber bullets against university students in Caracas Wednesday, after thousands demonstrated against a proposed referendum to end term limits on elected offices. Student leaders warn of a dictatorship if President Hugo Chavez engineers continuous re-elections."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pelosi & Co. ditch committee term limits

In a triumph of seniority over merit, the U.S. House -- led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- officially ditched committee chair term limits with the passage of a new rules package on Jan. 6.

Term limits on committee chairs was originally passed in 1995 as part of the GOP's Contract with America. Over 80 percent of House members voted in favor of the rule. And as polling from October shows, the public's desire for term limits has not diminished one bit since that time.

Ironically, the biggest losers from the regression to unlimited tenure are the relatively conservative 'blue dog' Democrats, the stars of the 2006 elections that put the Democrats back in control of the House. But these new Congressmen are now being pushed to the back of the bus, as the senior leadership will now control the levers of power indefinitely.

Yes, the new rules package is a power grab pure and simple. Call it a re-centralization of power.

The move is also a dramatic reversal of Pelosi's position just a few years ago. Back in 2004 while in the minority, Rep. Pelosi was quite eloquent about adding additional protections of minority rights under House rules. As John Fund pointed out in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 9, Rep. Pelosi was making a valid point. For example, in 2003 he majority Republicans held an open roll call vote for three hours on their unfortunate Medicare drug entitlement until they twisted enough arms to get the votes they needed.

But now in power, she has thrown that old rhetoric out the window. Something tells me this is not the change voters were clamoring for in November.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Michigan term limits: So far, so good

Thanks to Dave Horenstein and the Detroit National Political Examiner for printing my full response to Horenstein' s Jan. 6 op-ed, “Term limits haven't eliminated career politicians,” in their publication.

In his op-ed, Dave Horenstein made the case that since many term-limited legislators run for new offices somehow legislative term limits have failed.

This is a straw man argument that ignores the real goals and benefits of term limits.

Term limits have been undeniably successful in promoting rotation in office in Lansing. In non-term limited legislatures across the country, including the U.S. Congress, the reelection rate of incumbents who are not under indictment approaches 100 percent.

In 2008 – a year of change – 94.8 percent of all U.S. House incumbents seeking reelection got their wish. It’s practically automatic. And, naturally, all the seniority and power resides with this entrenched elite.

Why does this occur? Because in legislatures without term limits, special interest support and press coverage for incumbents is automatic and the success rate for challengers is so low that the two parties do not adequately support their own candidates -- if they field challengers at all. In the 2008 U.S. House elections there were 56 unopposed seats and the elections were simply canceled.

In Lansing, on the other hand, seats necessarily change hands every six years in the house and eight in the Senate. Here is where Michiganders see the most obvious benefit of term limits: regular, open, competitive elections.

This gives more weight to Michiganders votes, provides greater opportunities for citizens to run for office, brings a wider range of experience to the legislature, broadens the circle of those with intimate understanding of the legislative process, reduces opportunities for graft and remedies interdistrict inequities of power due to seniority.

Meanwhile, ousted incumbents who seek new seats are not shoo-ins, but must run as a non-incumbents and often face a challenge by another term-limited politician in a competitive, open race. It is such races where voters face a real choice.

If it is indeed true that Lansing attracts more than its share of careerists, this cannot be due to a reform that throws a roadblock in their way. Instead, one should look to the fact that Lansing offers a full-time, year-round job at the second-highest legislative salary in the nation.

Maybe term limits are just the first step in a reform process that’s not finished yet. But so far, so good.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Palm Beach loses two term limits heroes

A term limits hero passed away on Dec. 5, William V. "Bill" Hayes of Palm Beach Shores, Fla. He was 73.

Hayes was the chair of the Palm Beach County Term Limits Committee that sponsored the successful 2002 referendum that limited the terms of Palm Beach County commissioners to eight years in office.

Hayes was a retired U.S. Navy captain, having served as a submariner and in Naval intelligence as well as a Naval Attache in Oslo Norway from 1979 to 1981. Bill retired as director of Perry Technologies (Lockheed Martin) in 2006 and was active in numerous organizations advancing individual freedom and limited government, including the Heritage Foundation, James Madison Institute and the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida.

Hayes death closely followed the death of musician Lee Coleman of Lake Worth, 90, who was a stalwart volunteer petitioner in the same term limits effort.

Sadly, both missed the startling news that their nemesis of the term limits campaign, commissioner Mary McCarty, was indicted for corruption in early January.

Thank you, Bill and Lee. You will be missed.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Another term limit foe indicted in Palm Beach

Now we know why holding on to her county commission seat was so important. It was announced today that Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty has been indicted and will plead guilty of accepting gifts to steer business to special interests -- including her husband's bond underwriting firm.

She told the Palm Beach Post she expects to serve "a significant period of incarceration."

In doing so, she will follow her former colleagues on the commission Warren Newell and Tony Masilotti, both of whom got 5-year federal prison terms last year.

Commissioners McCarty and Newell were the most active opponents of the successful 2002 referendum to limit the terms of Palm Beach County Commissioners to eight years in office starting in 2010. I was the campaign manager for the effort.

Newell spoke against the measure at public meetings and called a referendum organizer at home -- my father, George -- and pleaded that the campaign be halted.

McCarty went further. As chair of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, she was the key reason the GOP did not endorse the referendum in spite of overwhelming support from the party's rank and file. McCarty actually instructed all the Republican Clubs around the county not to permit me to speak at their meetings and collect signed petitions. To their credit, most did anyway.

Naturally, the suspected corruption of the commissioners was an important impetus for the term limits effort. I recall that many of the petitioners who spent their evenings and weekends in parking lots across the county with clipboards were motivated by McCarty specifically. As I note here, one of the benefits of term limits is that they contribute to cleaner and more transparent government.

Sometimes the good guys win and justice is done. It is this experience that attracts so many to the term limits movement.