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.