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.