Sunday, March 10, 2013

Missouri State House: ME FIRST!

It can't be said that politicians never take an unpopular stand based on principle. At least, not when the important principle at stake is their own power and prestige.

Look at Missouri. Desperate politicians there are making another stab at defeating 8-year legislative term limits. On March 5, the Missouri House passed HJR 4, which would weaken term limits to a meaningless 16 years in either house. The bill is headed to the Missouri Senate.

HJR 4, introduced by Rep. Myron Neth (R-Liberty), would essentially negate the 1992 referendum which initiated the 8-year limits, in which 75 percent of voters gave the new limits the nod. The voters haven't changed their minds. Polling from 2011 shows that 77 percent of Missourians support the current 8-year term limits law and oppose weakening them.

And well they should. A recent study shows that term limits have been effective in some of their major aims.

First, term limits in Missouri have largely erased the surge in tenure in the Missouri legislature that marked the later 20th Century. Second, in the Missouri House, rotation in office due to term limits has created a more representative body comprising a far broader range of experience. Third, the intended division between the upper and lowers houses of the legislature has been improved. While the House has been transformed into a far more representative body, the percentage of the Senate with significant legislative experience remains very high, as many or most Senators serve first in the House. Hence, the balance – previously skewed toward professional politicians – has swung back more toward the center, balancing the value of experience and improving the representation and participation of the citizens.

This empowerment of the ignorant citizenry was supposed to lead to calamity. But in spite of all the grave pronouncements of self-interested politicians and special interests in Jefferson City, Missouri ranks among the best-run states in the country. The respected biannual "Rich States, Poor States" study by the American Legislative Exchange Council -- no friend of term limits -- ranks all the states by results, using the same metrics for all 50 states. ALEC ranks Missouri at #7. Nationwide, term limited states are crowded in the top half of these rankings.

So why are the politicians so desparate to gut the limits? The answer is obvious and the voters know it.

In the 2011 poll referenced above, a full 78 percent of the Missourians said that lawmakers who voted to lengthen the terms at that time are "primarily interested in keeping themselves in power," including 65 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of independents.

Time and time again, legislators come up with creative ways to keep themselves in office longer and HJR 4 is just another of these craven power grasps. The people of Missouri are best served by citizen legislators, and the state Senate needs to just say no to HJR 4.