Monday, November 15, 2010

El Paso voters wake up to term limits swindle


It appears many El Paso voters woke up surprised that they had voted to weaken their 8-year term limits law to a 12-year limit. Now there is a move afoot to reexamine that vote, in light of the fact that El Paso County appears to be the only place in America where term limits lost on Nov. 2.

Commissioner-elect Darryl Glenn told the Colorado Springs Gazette he plans to hold a public meeting in January to determine if the voters were fooled by the deceptive language of the referendum.

As reported earlier here, the El Paso politicians used a common titling and language trick that led voters to believe they were limiting terms, when in fact they were weakening them. County politicians acknowledged to the Colorado Springs Independent that they had chosen their wording "strategically." Then, after the ruse had come fully to light, they dug themselves a deeper hole by admitting to the Gazette they copied the scheme from other counties.

In other words, instead of using simple language explaining that a yes vote would lengthen the existing term limits from two to three terms (eight to 12 years), the politicians admit they sought out deceptive language that "worked" elsewhere.

Well, it did work. So far...

Friday, November 5, 2010

2010 ELECTIONS -- Citizens embrace term limits nationwide, Congressional pledgers win

It was another banner election year for term limits.

Across the nation on Nov. 2, voters approved new term limits or defended or strengthened existing ones at the state and local level. Plus, about a dozen signers of the U.S. Term Limits Amendment Pledge won their Congressional races and will be pushing for term limits in the new Congress.

By signing the U.S. Term Limits Amendment Pledge, Congress members committed to "cosponsor and vote for" Congressional term limits along the lines of Sen. Jim DeMint's existing term limits amendment bill. DeMint's bill calls for limits of three terms (six years) for the House and two (12 years) for the Senate.

Signers who won include Dave Schweikert (AZ-5), David Rivera (FL-25), Michael Pompeo (KS-4), John Sullivan (OK-1), Frank Lucas (OK-3), Tom Coburn (OK-SEN), Tim Scott (SC-1), Jeff Duncan (SC-3), Mick Mulvaney (SC-5) and Ralph Hall (TX-4). Two races involving term limits pledgers have not been decided as of this writing, Joe Walsh (IL-8) and Rocky Raczkowski (MI-9).

Of all the 2010 term limits referenda I know about, term limits won 34 out of 35 jurisdictions. (If any referenda escaped my notice, please let me know.) Interestingly, this is a similar result as 2008, an election in which Democrats were ascendant.


DOWNER'S GROVE, IL -- Referendum to limit mayor to two 4-year terms and commissioners to three (advisory only)
NO 16%

BOULDER CITY, NV -- Limits city council members to three terms in office
NO 29%

BOULDER CITY, NV -- Limits appointees of city committees to three terms
NO 40%

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL -- Limits terms of mayor and council members to two consecutive 4-year terms
NO 30.50%

CHAFFEE COUNTY, CO -- Would eliminate the term limit on the district attorney
YES 41%

CLINTON COUNTY, VT -- Would abolish term limits for Clinton County legislators
YES 28.46%

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX -- Increases waiting time from two to six years for politicians termed out of office to run again for the same seat
NO 37%

EAGLE COUNTY, CO -- Weakens term limits from two to three 4-year terms
YES 31%

EL PASO COUNTY, CO -- Weakens term limits from two to three 4-year terms
YES 60%

FARRAGUT, TN -- Limits official to two terms in a single office, three in any office
NO 8.5%

FULLERTON, CA -- Limits council members to three 4-year terms
NO 20.2%

HEMET, CA -- No elected official can serve more than three 4-year terms in their life
NO 11%

INDIAN WELLS, CA -- Limits mayor and council to two consecutive 4-year terms
NO 20.75%

KIT CARSON COUNTY, CO -- Abolishes term limit on district attorney
YES 29%

LAGUNA HILLS, CA -- Limits city council members to two 4-year terms
NO 25.6%

LOGAN COUNTY, CO -- Eliminates term limit on district attorney
YES 30%

LOOMIS, CA -- Limits town council members to two consecutive 4-year terms
NO 44.6%

MENIFEE, CA -- Limits council members to two consecutive 4-year terms
NO 18.3%

MORGAN COUNTY, CO -- Eliminates term limit on district attorney
YES 26%

MULTNOMAH COUNTY, OR -- Abolishes county term limit of two 4-year terms in any 12-year period
YES 49%

MURIETTA, CA -- Limits council members to two consecutive 4-year terms
NO 33%

NAPERVILLE, IL -- Limits mayor and council members to three consecutive 4-year terms
NO 28%

Would permit county commissioners to serve three consecutive terms instead of two
YES 17.5%

NEW YORK CITY, NY -- Reestablishes term limits on mayor and council members of two consecutive 4-year terms
NO 26%

OKLAHOMA (STATEWIDE) -- Sets lifetime term limit for governor and other statewide officials to two 4-year terms
NO 30.12%

PARK COUNTY, CO -- Would eliminate the term limit on the district attorney
YES 31%

PHILLIPS COUNTY, CO -- Eliminates term limit on district attorney
YES 34%

ROSEVILLE, CA -- Would weaken council term limits to three from two 4-year terms
YES 31%

SAN DIEGO, CA -- Limits terms of county supervisors to two 4-year terms (on primary ballot June 2010)
NO 31%

SANTA CLARA, CA -- Limits water district members to three terms
NO 24.63%

SEDGWICK COUNTY, CO -- Eliminates term limit on district attorney
YES 39%

STOW, OH -- Limits city council to two 4-year terms
NO 25%

STOW, OH -- Limits city finance director to two 4-year terms
NO 27%

WASHINGTON COUNTY, CO -- Eliminates term limit on district attorney
YES 32%

YUMA COUNTY, CO -- Abolishes existing term limit on district attorney
YES 35%

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Crime does pay in El Paso County

Are El Paso County voters the only voters in America who don’t support term limits?

It appears so. A review of term limits referenda around the country shows that term limits – either new term limits or reiterating or strengthening existing ones – passed everywhere they appeared on the ballot on Nov. 2 except in this Colorado county.

But looking closer, it turns out there is more to the story. It turns out that the ballot language was carefully written and promoted to confuse the voters into thinking that a vote for the anti-term limits referendum was a vote for term limits. In reality, the measure weakened the county commissioners’ term limit from two to three terms, giving them an extra four years in office at $87,300 per.

Hence, anti-term limits commissioners like Dennis Hisey and Sallie Clark, pictured, stand to pocket about $350,000 plus perks from their election day swindle.

The Colorado Springs Independent reports that county politicians “acknowledged they worded the measures strategically, asking whether officials should be limited to three terms. Unlike previous ballot measures, the questions didn't mention they're already limited to two terms."

State Sen. Ed Jones, a former El Paso county commissioner, said the measure was "disgusting" and "a slap in the face" of voters. City Councilman Darryl Glenn called it “misleading.” Former state representative Michael Merrifield told the Independent, "the way the question was posed made it sound like they were going to limit terms when in fact they are extending them."

No doubt. We’ve seen this trick before. In California in 2008, after losing twice at the ballot box already, an anti-term limits measure was crafted and marketed in a way suggesting that a yes vote would be a vote for term limits. In early polling, over 55% supported the measure. But in the course of the campaign the voters realized the trick, the polling flipped and Proposition 93 ended up losing by around 55%. In El Paso County, voters didn't get the message in time.

So, no, one can’t say El Paso is different because their voters oppose term limits. They are different because, in the year of the Tea Party, they are one county in America where the corrupt establishment Republicans won.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The U.S. Term Limits Amendment Pledge: An action plan for the 2010 election

The primaries are over and now we're in the final stretch into the November election. All the momentum is riding with those calling for real change. But how can we make sure we are electing candidates who are serious about changing Washington and not just telling us what we want to hear? How can we hold them accountable once they win?

Here's how:

Today, U.S. Term Limits mailed out the last of 996 packages to every major party Congressional candidate in the country -- House and Senate, incumbent and challenger. In it is a letter from me and a pledge for the candidate to sign. The pledge commits the signer to cosponsor and vote for a constitutional amendment to limit Congressional terms to three in the House and two in the Senate.

Let's get as many candidates as possible to sign this pledge before election day! Then, U.S. Term Limits will follow up and make sure the signers who won live up to their word.

Think about the power of this simple project. After November, we can expect to have genuine term limits bills in both houses of Congress with a growing list of cosponsors. Then we can move on to the next step of the plan to get a vote on a real term limits amendment before 2012.

Please, right now, go to the new pledge website* and find out if your local Congressional candidates have signed the pledge. If not, call or email them and ask them to.

At every opportunity, particularly in public forums, ask your local Congressional candidates -- incumbents and challengers -- if they support term limits and, if they say yes, ask them if they have signed the U.S. Term Limits Pledge. History tells us if they won't sign, they don't really support term limits.

This is a big project that necessarily must be accomplished in a short period of time. We have big up-front costs of production, mailing and promotion. Please also go here and make a financial contribution to U.S. Term Limits to help pay for this important project.

Friends, this is it. With the skyrocketing polling on term limits, plummeting Congressional approval ratings and a real live term limits amendment bill in the Senate, never have the stars been so aligned to make this possible. We have the opportunity, let's take it.
*The website will be live the week of Sept. 26.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Term Limits and the 2010 U.S. Senate elections

The issue of term limits is hot again, in a way we haven't seen in well over a decade. A poll released last week shows that 78 percent of Americans support term limits for the U.S. Congress, including large majorities for Democrats (74%), independents (74%) and Republicans (84%). Meanwhile, Congressional approval ratings are mining all-time lows.

Hence, now is the time to press for Congressional term limits. If not now, when?

We have a vehicle, the "Term Limits for All" amendment, with leadership from its author, Sen. Jim DeMint. What we need now is get more cosponsors and votes for the amendment. That means electing pro-term limits candidates. Just as importantly, it means getting these candidates to commit to co-sponsoring the DeMint amendment.

Why is this specific bill so important? Because supporting term limits in general but then opposing the specific proposal that is actually on the table is the oldest political trick in the book. We need to approach all Senate candidates with the follwing question, either in conversation, at public appearances, or by phone or email: "Will you become a co-sponsor of the DeMint amendment to limit Congressional terms?" Then we need to help them win.


The Miller campaign informs us that he has spoken in support of term limits, but has not made the issue central to his campaign. They are looking at the DeMint amendment and will decide whether or not to come out in support.


Firoina made a big splash with her announcement to support term limits for the U.S. Congress. The problem is, the 12-year House limits she is calling for don't jibe with DeMint's amendment, which calls for six years for the House and 12 for the Senate. Thank her for her support of term limits, but will she sign on to the DeMint bill? Ask her!


Buck is one of the eight Senate candidates being financially assisted by DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund. One of the eight planks of the CSF is "Our country is being destroyed by career politicians. SCF candidates will support a constitutional amendment establishing congressional term limits. " That is a good sign and Buck has verbally supported term limits. But will he be a co-sponsor of the DeMint bill?


Another CSF recipient who has opined that the Republican Party should be the party of term limits. However, he has gone to great lengths to avoid committing to supporting Jim DeMint's bill in public. In fact, he has gone quiet on the issue since he successfully used his Tea Party stepladder to become the establishment favorite.


Term limits is one of Rand Paul's top campaign issues and he has unambiguously come out in support of the DeMint bill. He has even pledged to work on trying to make term limits a presidential issue for 2012! Thanks, Rand.


Tom Coburn is a long-term term limits supporter and is already a co-sponsor of the DeMint bill. Thank you!


One can't doubt Toomey's term limit bona fides. Like Tom Coburn, Toomey left the House after fulfilling a self-imposed commitment to serve no more than eight years in the U.S. House. Today, he is supporting Congressional term limits. Will be be a co-sponsor of the DeMint bill? Ask him!


Jim DeMint is providing the national leadership needed on this issue. He is also spoken of as a presidential candidate for 2012 or beyond. If he runs, he'd be taking the term limits issue with him on the campaign trail.

Regarding Congressional term limits, some say, "It is a great idea, but it will never happen." Heck, I've said this before! But picture this: 1) 78% support from Americans of all parties, 2) Congressional approval ratings at all-time lows, 3) an amendment bill in the U.S. Senate with a growing list of cosponsors, 4) a companion bill submitted in the House, 5) term limits become important campaign issue across the country, and then, 5) presidential sponsorship.

All of a sudden, it seems like it can happen, doesn't it? Let's make it so!

(By the way, if you have info about these or other Senate races in regards to term limits, please share. You can email me here.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

West Palm Beach case instructive for local term limits defenders everywhere

The continuing saga in West Palm Beach, Fla., where a two-term incumbent mayor is trying to weaken the existing voter-approved term limit so she can run again, is one that is again playing out in cities and even state legislatures across the country. And the result is nearly always the same: the people win.

But it does require some resistance. It may be instructive to look at how citizens in this South Florida city are defending their popular term limit against the political ambitions of their mayor and certain city commissioners. Their blog, updated daily, tells the story.

The end result is a near foregone conclusion -- 2009 polling shows some 76% of Floridians in the Southeast region of the state oppose replacing a 8-year term limit with a 12-year one -- as long as a few people, like West Palm Beach businessman Rick Shepherd shown here, stand up and rally their neighbors to act.

Friday, July 23, 2010

West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel clinging to power in spite of term limit

It’s an old, old story now playing in re-runs in West Palm Beach, Fla. An arrogant politician feels entitled to his or her position and schemes to overturn popular term limits to keep it.

In this case, Mayor Lois Frankel has launched a petition drive to weaken West Palm Beach’s 8-year mayoral term limit. Although her earlier trial balloons were shot down, she is attempting a desperate end run around rank-and-file West Palm Beach citizens who embrace the 8-year limits.

There is little doubt that voters love term limits. This is true nationally – a 2008 poll shows 83 percent generic support for the idea – but also in Florida where an April 2009 statewide poll showed 79 percent specifically favoring Florida’s 8-year limit on the state legislature. Here in Palm Beach County, 8-year term limits for the county commission won in 2002 with 70 percent of the vote. In fact, right now there is a citizen referendum campaign under way to enact term limits in Palm Beach Gardens!

I am tempted to quote Frankel regarding a downtown development she was pushing, "Why bother with a referendum when it’s widely accepted?"

There is only one reason, of course. Lois Frankel does not want to let go to the reins of power. Yes, she could run again for mayor later under West Palm Beach law. But she couldn’t do so now with all the exceptional powers of an incumbent in a strong mayor system.

That’s right, Mayor Frankel. And that is reason number one why we have 8-year term limits in this city!

Let’s review some of the reasons that West Palm Beach has 8-year term limits and why we should keep them:

  • In 1991, West Palm Beach followed other large and growing cities in adopting a strong-mayor system of government with term limits via voter referendum. This is a system where the elected mayor is given almost total administrative authority and a clear, wide range of political independence. As turnout is very small in local elections and the mayor has massive favors to grant to local interests, a strong mayor has enormous electoral advantage that largely detaches him or her from the will of the people. Hence term limits were included as a necessary limit of strong mayor power by ensuring regular, competitive elections.

  • Under any municipal system – but particularly under a strong mayor system -- term limits topple the local fiefdoms that develop through the natural merging of interests between incumbents and special interests.

  • As cities grow and the leadership positions become more powerful, term limits are more important than ever. That is why 9 of the 10 largest cities in America have term limits.

  • Eight years is the traditional, time-tested American term limit for a good reason: A eight-year term balances the benefits of both experience and of rotation in office. Eight-year term limits are imposed on the President of the United States, Florida’s governor, the Florida legislature and the Palm Beach County Commission. What is the argument for exalting the mayor of West Palm Beach above all other politicians?

  • The strong mayor position in particular attracts careerists. It is, after all, a comfortable job, not just an opportunity for public service. For instance, in 2004, Mayor Frankel was awarded a 40% raise to today’s salary of $125,000. The paychecks come with some other considerable perks including: free health and dental care with no deductible, no premiums, no co-pays, no prescription drug costs and the ability to see any doctor with out additional cost; $400 per month car allowance; $420 per month ‘management incentive; life insurance and long-term care insurance; and a retirement plan.

  • Term limits are democratic. The strong mayor system was chosen to centralize power in order to move city projects forward, not to create a monarchy. Term limits ensure rotation in office, which necessarily introduces a broader range of experience and perspectives, permits greater citizen participation and broadens the circle of those with intimate knowledge of local government. It helps create a more engaged and informed local electorate.

  • Term limits discourage corruption. Corruption is highly correlated to tenure because secure tenure breeds the hubris and opportunity necessary for corruption to blossom. Not only that, but the closed, tight circle of a government without regular rotation is far less transparent – and hence less accountable – than a more open, term-limited one. This was a key reason why term limits for the Palm Beach County Commission was so important. Please note that the two most outspoken opponents of the 2002 campaign for county commission term limits – Mary McCarty and Warren Newell – are now in prison for corruption.
The bottom line is that at a time when the unemployment rate in Florida is more than 10 percent, it is shameful that Mayor Frankel's top priority is to save her own job. Let’s keep our 8-year term limits!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Does your Congressional candidate support the term limits bill? ASK!

With Congressional approval ratings at historic lows, support for term limits at all-time highs and tea partiers in the streets holding term limits signs, it seems like there is no better time to press for Congressional term limits.

What is missing so far is political leadership. But that might be changing.

For the first time since the Contract with America era we have a popular U.S. Senator, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, sponsoring a term limit amendment. He’s attracted only three senate cosponsors so far and two of those are leaving the Senate, but several potential new ones are currently campaigning for a Senate seat using term limits as a leading campaign theme.

Start with Kentucky. There, Senate candidate Rand Paul – leading in the polls both against his Republican primary opponent and likely Democratic challengers – has pledged to make term limits his number one issue if elected.

"Term limits is the preeminent issue of our campaign," he said. "I will travel to Frankfort and other legislatures to try to get them to act on this issue so we have both Congress and the state legislatures working on it."

But he won’t stop there.

"I will do my best to convince our presidential candidate on the GOP side to adopt the issue as well," Paul said. "I think this is vital in pushing this issue forward."

Another Senate hopeful – also leading in a Republican primary – is Florida’s Marco Rubio. Rubio says he’s seen term limits work when he was Speaker of the House in Florida’s legislature. In fact, he was term-limited out of office. His first-hand experience has led him to believe the U.S. Congress should be term limited too.

"We should be the party of term limits," Rubio told National Review. "We should be the party that says it’s not natural for any human being to serve more than half his adult life in the U.S. Congress."

Rubio, however, is so far ducking the question of whether he will actually cosponsor the DeMint bill, or just likes talking about it.

In Illinois, state senator and former Illinois GOP Chair Gilbert Baker is in a tough primary fight. He’s hoping term limits put him over the top.

"We have got to return to the spirit of a citizen legislature," Baker said. "One way to get back to that, I am going to push for a two term limit in the United States Senate." To emphasize the point, Baker promised that whether he is successful or not, he personally would leave after his two terms. "Twelve years is long enough."

Other term-limits advocates include Republican Stephen Fincher, a leading candidate to succeed retiring Rep. John Tanner (D-TN) and Democrat Iraq War veteran Tommy Sowers, a long-shot candidate against Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO).

U.S. Term Limits urges all voters to ask their Congressional candidates where they stand on Sen. Jim DeMint’s amendment to limit senators to two terms and representatives to three terms in office. We have to nail them down on this before the election.

Ask them and let us know. We’ll make sure term limits supporters in their states know their answer.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

West Palm Beach: The city's not about one person

When former West Palm Beach mayor Nancy Graham reached the end of her second term, she she initially ran to the courts to circumvent the 8-year term limit. The she thought better of it: "The city's not about one person," she said.

Fast forward to 2010. Another big ideas (and big budgets!) mayor, Lois Frankel, is coming to the end of her second term and seeking a way to keep her job. Her chosen vehicle is the city's charter review commission, which is a 5-member board created to review and suggest changes to the city's system of government. In January she stacked the commission with four of her devotees who are said to be impartially weighing the benefits of a Frankel third term.

"I have no ulterior motive," Frankel told the Palm Beach Post. "The committee was not put together to look at (term limits)."

Yeah, right.

She didn't fool the Post, nor anyone else. As the Post points out in an excellent editorial on the subject, "If her push to end term limits proves to be unpopular, the mayor has a backup plan that would give her an additional 20 months in office. That plan calls for timing mayoral elections with presidential elections. Instead of leaving office in March 2011, Mayor Frankel would stay until November 2012."
The idea of a charter review commission is a legitimate one, and indeed it behooves the city to review its new (well, since 1991) strong mayor system. Term limits, among their other benefits, help limit the power of the strong executive, by ensuring that the significant power of this position cannot be used to secure a job for life. The strong mayor system was intended to centralize authority in order to move city projects forward, not to create a monarchy.

Frankel is out of touch enough to be shocked at the pushback she is getting. The press, fellow city commissioners (including, of course, potential mayoral candidates) and citizen activists lept into action as soon as the first charter review commission meeting was announced. As a result, the first meeting was cancelled about an hour before it was scheduled to start.

It is not late for Mayor Frankel to tuck the burst trial balloon in her pocket and, with dignity, serve out her last year as mayor. She can always run again in the future after sitting out a term if she wishes, albeit without the powers of incumbency that make a low-turnout reelection a formality.

Nonetheless, West Palm Beach citizens are laying defensive groundwork just in case their popular term limits law is assaulted.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Only 8% of Americans want Congress reelected

According to a new poll by CBS News and the New York Times:

  • 8 percent of Americans want the members of Congress reelected.
  • 80 percent of Americans said members of Congress are more interested in serving special interests than the people they represent.
  • 75 percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

These numbers complement perfectly the latest (October 2008) national polling that shows that 83 percent of Americans support term limits on their elected officials. All show a bi-, tri- and non-partisan yearning of the American people for the lost tradition of rotation in office that our Founders intended.

So this means that incumbents will get clobbered in the 2010 elections? Well, maybe, but history shows that nearly all the change will occur in competitive open seat elections. Even in the dramatic years of change, such as 1992-94 and 1996-98 (see chart above), Congressional incumbents won overwhelmingly in spite of the mood of the country that showed up clearly in competitive races.

Please note the Massachusetts message was only made possible by the opening up of Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat. In other anticipated upsets -- Rand Paul in Kentucky and Marco Rubio in Florida, for example -- it is the open seats that are giving voters their voice.

Only an institutional reform like term limits can fix the institutional problem of entrenched incumbency. In the meantime, voters can take advantage of open seats as they occur to meaningfully express their will. But with term limits, it will not require crisis, retirements and luck to effectuate change. Instead, there will be rolling open seats in every district in the nation, drastically improving the people's representation on a regular basis.

(Thanks to the Center for Responsive Politics for the image above.)

Ed Roski Jr.: A California case study in soft corruption

According to the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 30, “Ed Roski Jr., the L.A. County billionaire who got state legislators to exempt his proposed NFL stadium from environmental laws, has showered the lawmakers with tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash… The money is part of $505,000 that Roski put into California political campaigns during the second half of 2009, including $300,000 toward a proposed ballot measure that would change term limits.”

That's called payback.

This legal bribe is being offered as California politicians are once again raising cash for a referendum effort to overturn or weaken term limits in California. In their last financial disclosure report, the petition effort reports raising about $485,000, a full $300,000 of it from Roski. The rest is from other special interests with pending business before the legislature including the LA County Federation of Labor, LA Jobs PAC, O'Melveny & Myers trial lawyers PAC, a police union and the BNSF Railway Co.

This will be the third time Californians will be asked to vote on term limits since the voters originally passed them back in 1990. In both 2002 and 2008, the voters rebuffed the politicians.

Money isn't enough by itself. In both of those previous efforts, the anti-term limits forces raised and spend some 10 times as much much as the term limits supporters.

So, they've dusted off and tweaked a gimmick in order to trick the people into voting for it. In California, the lower house is limited to six years and the upper house, eight. That is, you could serve in one and then the other for a total of 14 years total. The new proposal to weaken term limits will increase the number of years to 12 in each house, but limit politicians to a total of 12 overall. They are going to claim that their proposal actually strengthens the term limits law, as it reduces total service to 12 years from 14. You have to admit: it may be arrogant and deceptive, but it is clever.

Greased with enough cash and enough obfuscation, the politicians and lobbies think the third time might be the charm. They've already squandered tens of millions of dollars in their quest to retain power but their purse keeps growing because they have the favors to grant. In a state with a 12%-plus unemployment rate, the jobs they're fighting the hardest to keep are their own.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Arizona politicians focus on jobs -- their own!

With the country in recession, our politicians' chief challenge is how to preserve jobs -- starting with their own. As incumbent reelection rates typically exceed 90%, the second worst thing that can happen to a politician is to have to leave their seat and face an open, competitive election for a new one. (The first worst thing, of course, would be to get a private sector job!)

And so, across the land, there is a wave of politicians seeking to overturn term limits. In Arizona, Missouri, California, Michigan, South Dakota and Florida, anti-term limits bills are pending. Most are simply trial balloons that will be shot down as soon as citizens are alerted to them. Politicians who do some polling or review recent ballot results will find out quickly that citizens desire term limits now more than ever.

Nonetheless, in Arizona one such bill to repeal term limits, sponsored by Carolyn Allen (R-Scottsdale), has just emerged from the Judiciary Committee on Jan. 19.

What are they thinking? Not about their constituents, you can be sure. Eight-year legislative term limits were originally enacted in 1992 when Arizonans voted with 74 percent of the vote to add them to the state’s constitution.

In response, U.S. Term Limits is running this 30-second television commercial on Arizona TV to let the people know what's going on. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Would term limits improve Fed independence?

It is widely remarked that while there are numerous contributors to the current credit crisis, the primary cause -- without which the others would not have led to calamity or even occurred at all -- is the easy money policy of the Fed through much of the '00s.

Of course, Wall Street, the banking industry and politicians in both the White House and the Congress have historically pressured the Fed to keep the printing presses running. Easy money generally means low interest rates and expansion of the economy even if the actual savings patterns of Americans don't warrant it. Although bubbles and/or price inflation are the eventual result of such policies, historically the Fed has buckled to this political pressure. It continues to do so right now.

So how do we insulate the Fed chief from these powerful special interests? One Wall Street Journal blogger suggests term limits.

In his Jan. 26 post, Jon Hilsenrath points out that the chief of the European Central Bank has an eight-year limit and maybe Fed chairmen should too. After all, term limits "would insulate the Fed from political meddling because a chairman would know that there would be no point to pleasing political masters because the job runs out after eight years."

He suggests the Fed "became complacent during the latter years of [Alan Greenspan's 19-year] reign, keeping interest rates too low for too long ... and underestimating building risks in the financial system. Because the economy seemed to do so well for so long, it became harder over time to second-guess the approach championed by Mr. Greenspan."

Simon Gilchrist, a Boston University economist, agrees. “It would accomplish the goal of giving the public a greater sense of oversight without creating undue political influence ... It would also have the benefit of forcing the Fed to be more articulate about its specific goals and policies,” he said, because it would de-emphasize the power of single chairman.

Interesting. I confess I had never considered it, but I think he's right. Naturally, a central banking system in which interest rates and money supply are manipulated by political appointees can never be independent of politics. But term limits may reduce the special interest pressure.

Another point that Hilsenrath doesn't mention: Because of his failures Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke currently suffers from CYA Syndrome and presides over a highly secretive organization that aggravates this common political illness. New leadership would feel freer to 'fess up and share information, improving the transparency of the body as well.

Independence? Transparency? Bernanke promised both when he took the reins at the Fed. We didn't get them. Term limits may help.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Freudenthal: The Wyoming Caudillo?

According to the Associated Press, Gov. Dave Freudenthal of Wyoming is "still undecided whether he'll seek a third term next year." The problem is, like 35 other states, Wyoming has gubernatorial term limits. He is legally barred from running!

If he jumps in the race, he'll join a growing list of Third World chief executives who are defying their constitutions, not to mention their people, to retain power after their term limit expires. Over the last few years, Hugo Chavez in Venzuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Manuel Zelaya in the Honduras have cast off -- or tried to -- the shackles of term limits intended to guarantee rotation in office.

In the case of President Zelaya, his extra-legal ambitions actually led to a military coup and constitutional crisis last year. So you need to be careful how you do such things. "You need to have thought about kind of how you're going to structure it," the governor told the AP about his potential campaign.

Well, let's see. The governor can appeal to the people, as Wyoming does have a citizen initiative process. But there is not enough time. Plus, there's the pesky fact that approval of term limits in polls have hit all-time highs. No, that's right out.

The governor could go to the legislature and have them change Wyoming State Statute Title 22, Chapter 5, which limits him to serving only eight out of any 16 years. But the Republican legislature is unlikely to ditch a popular law to further the personal ambitions of a Democratic governor. No can do.

Well, there's always the courts. It didn't work for President Zelaya, whose final straw was his standoff with the Honduran Supreme Court. But with the right legal team, a friendly judge and a little flexing of his gubernatorial muscles, maybe he could get the law shot down on technicalities. After all, the legislature pulled off this trick back in 2004, nixing a citizen referendum on term limits that had passed with 77 percent of the vote.

Yes, maybe he could get away with it. But he shouldn't try. In the United States, we take for granted equality under the law and the peaceful and legal transfer of power election after election. In respect for these traditions, Gov. Freudenthal should stand down, thank Wyoming citizens for his opportunity to serve them ... and move on.