Saturday, October 26, 2013

NEWS FLASH: Montana pols don't like to be term limited

As if it were news, the Washington Post reported this week that Montana "legislators in both parties expressed frustration" with state term limits and are considering taking another stab at gutting them.

Hold the presses! Incumbent politicians don't like term limits!

The fact is, of course, that Montana politicians have opposed the limits since voters first imposed them in 1992 with 67 percent of the vote.

Citizens feel differently. Last time we heard from them on this issue they voted down with 70 percent a 2004 referendum that would have repealed the limits. No poll since has suggested voters have changed their minds.

And why would they? In spite of the politicians' stories of limit-inspired calamity, Montana is in decent shape. In a 2013 ranking of states, Montana is #9 in terms of state GDP, employment and net migration -- all things highly influenced by government policy.

While every legislature like every marriage is dysfunctional in its own way, some are clearly better than others. And Montana, along with most of the other 14 term limits states, are typically crowded in the upper half of such rankings.

The Montana term limits are not strict ones. In fact, they are as loose as a limit can be while still retaining the beneficial aspects of term limits. Montana legislators are limited to eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate. A good portion of the Senate is made up of former House reps. They are also not lifetime limits. A Montana politician can sit out a term and then run again in the future as a challenger.

In the Post article, the politicians comically cite their own inexperience as an argument against the limits, although this alleged lack of experience doesn't appear to hinder the governor of Montana or even the president of the United States, both of which face eight-year limits. Of course, legislators -- like governors, presidents and CEOs -- generally do have considerable experience before being elected. They are not infants, after all, but instead successful citizens who their fellows have entrusted with public functions.

So what is the politicians' real objection to term limits? Here it is: They do not want to face electoral competition. According to a 2012 report by Ballotpedia, the Montana legislature is ranked #10 nationwide in terms of the competitiveness of its state elections.

There are lots of primary contests and regular rotation in office in Montana. The legislature stays fresh, with new faces and ideas and lots of opportunities for citizens to successfully run for office. This means too that there are a lot of ex-legislators running around, which makes for a better educated polity and greater transparency. These are all things that aspiring career politicians everywhere find burdensome.

In other words, term limits are working in Montana and politicians there want to nix them precisely for this reason. Don't let them.