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.