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?