Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Voters betrayed by the Arkansas gang of four

Here is the Oct. 16 press release from U.S. Term Limits about four state legislators in Arkansas that signed a pro-term limits pledge during the 2012 campaign, but violated it immediately after they won the election.
U.S. Term Limits President Philip Blumel called on four members of the Arkansas General Assembly today to honor their term limits pledge by renouncing support for the anti-term limits amendment, and helping to remove it from the Nov. 2014 ballot.

"These legislators signed a pledge to the people, stating that they would never take any action to lengthen Arkansas' voter-approved term limits of six years in the House and eight in the Senate," Blumel said. "By voting to give themselves 16 years in their seat, they have joined the laundry list of politicians who say one thing and do another. Now is the time for them to restore trust with the people of Arkansas by taking it off the ballot."

In the Arkansas House, Bob Ballinger (R-97) and Randy Alexander (R-88) signed and violated the term limits pledge. In the State Senate, the two offenders were David Sanders (R-15) and Gary Stubblefield (R-6). State Senator Alan Clark (R-13) signed the pledge but did not vote at all on the anti-term limits amendment. All five were first elected to their current offices in 2012.

In 1992, 60% of Arkansas voters placed term limits of three two-year terms on the State House and two four-year terms on the State Senate. The people returned to the polls in 2004 to defend these limits, voting down an extension amendment by a margin of 70%-30%.

Now, politicians are trying again to weaken the popular state law by putting the The
Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency, and Financial Reform Amendment of 2014 on the ballot. If approved in the fall of next year, it would double the term limit in the Senate and more than double it in the House.

"The name is not at all what it implies, and the politicians know that." Blumel cautioned. "This sort of sleazy political maneuvering is the reason term limits are so popular in the first place."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Nevada Supremes take on Reno cheater case

Typically, term limits win at the ballot box with 60-70 percent of the vote. The best refuge for self-interested scoundrels seeking to evade them has been the courts. The latest episode in this long-running story is unfolding in Nevada.

Weak 12-year term limits were inserted in the state constitution by voters in 1994 and 1996 (it takes two votes in Nevada) with 70 percent of the vote. The term limits apply to all local governing bodies in the state including the Reno City Council. But two 12-year veterans of the council, current incumbent Dwight Dortch and former councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza, are running for mayor anyway. Their argument is the mayor is not a member of the council.

Mayoral candidate George "Eddie" Lorton begs to differ. His copy of the Reno City Charter clearly states that the mayor is a member of the council:

"The mayor shall serve as a member of the city council and preside over its meetings." (Section 1.014, Reno City Charter)

And his copy of the state constitution says, "No person may be elected to any state or local governing body who has served in that office, or at the expiration of his current term if he is so serving will have served, 12 years or more." (Nevada Constitution, Article 15, Section 3)

That's pretty explicit. How can one get around that?

Not by tackling it honestly. Instead, the term limit cheats in this case are simply ignoring it and charging ahead with their mayoral campaigns and, when challenged, are using a schoolyard defense: Other politicians are doing it!

It is true. In Henderson during the term limit era, Mayor Andy Hafen served 12 years on the Henderson City Council and then ran for mayor in 2009. He is still there.

Defenders of the cheaters also point to a 2008 opinion in their favor by the state attorney general who claimed the mayor's position could be construed as separate from the council and hence years as a council member do not count against a mayoral term limit. The trouble with that opinion is that Lorton has a newer, contrary one from the Legislative Counsel Bureau, the legal team for the state legislature. Most importantly, the 2008 opinion predates the very explicit language quoted above that states the mayor is indeed a member of the council.

In a petition to the Supreme Court he filed earlier this month, Lorton also points out the logical absurdity of the cheaters position. The official description of the amendment passed by voters states the reasons for the term limits are to "stop career politicians since no one will be able to hold office for several terms ... local governing body members would have the opportunity to focus on the issues instead of reelection." Does a term limit with such a goal really permit someone to serve on the council for six terms and 24 years?

Chief Justice Kris Pickering announced that the issues raised by Lorton have "arguable merit." You bet they do. He ordered an answer within 30 days from the two term limit cheaters, the city clerk and the voter registrar. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The politicians' far-fetched claim that the mayor wasn't a member of the council was shot down by the Nevada Supreme Court on Feb. 21. The citizens won this one. While voters had approved 12-year term limits, these politicians were trying to stretch them to 24. Thanks to Eddie Lorton and others who took the initiative to put a stop to this.

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.

Monday, October 21, 2013

OBIT: Ex-Speaker Thomas Foley's term expires

by Paul Jacob via Town Hall

We never met. Even if we had met, we wouldn’t have been friends: we wouldn’t have traded holiday cards, certainly wouldn’t have shared a drink or played tennis or joked together at a party. (I wonder if he played tennis.)

Former Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) passed away on Friday at age 84. We were political antagonists, twenty years ago, when the issue of term limits placed us at loggerheads.

It wasn’t personal. Foley was just another congressperson to me, though his 30 years in Congress and his leadership position obviously made him more answerable for the then-high levels of congressional arrogance and dysfunction — which seem so much less toxic now, in retrospect, because of the passage of time and the fresh memories of current congressional malevolence.

In those days, I served as executive director of U.S. Term Limits, and was campaigning to place limits on the number of terms any person could spend in Congress. The idea was to disable politicians from holding power for decades without ever having to return home to live under the laws they had passed.

Back then Congress exempted itself from many of the laws it enacted. That practice has noticeably changed, as sometimes now the president must also be called in to exempt Congress from the laws it passes, as with Obamacare.

In 1992, working with citizen leaders in 14 states, we petitioned to place term limits initiatives on the ballot — the most states to ever vote on a single issue in the same election cycle. Voters in all 14 states approved term limits, including in Speaker Foley’s home state of Washington.

Washington’s Initiative 573 lost narrowly in Foley’s congressional district, but won statewide. The voters had spoken and, though the Speaker was returned to office for the next term, he was also now limited to no more than three additional terms, six years.

So, Speaker of the House Tom Foley sued in federal court to overturn the vote cast by the people of his state imposing term limits on him. It was neither the first nor the last time a politician sued his voters, but few campaign managers recommend it. Being a plaintiff in the lawsuit against term limits proved Speaker Foley’s undoing, a misstep from which he could not recover.

Foley and his spokespeople often cited the fact that folks in his district had sided against the term limits measure. True, but even among that very slim majority, his lawsuit to overturn the people’s vote felt like a slap in the face and was seen as an unmistakable sign Mr. Foley had “gone Washington.”

The other Washington.

As the 1994 election approached, congressional Republicans were embracing term limits in their Contract with America, and so was a young lawyer from Spokane named George Nethercutt, who was challenging Speaker Foley. Nethercutt not only claimed to favor term limits, he pledged to serve just three terms, as Washingtonians had voted, and he promised never to sue his constituents as Foley was doing. The term limits movement spent more than $300,000 on TV and radio spots and mailings reminding eastern Washington voters of all that Foley had done to deny their vote and block his own term limits.

On that election night some nineteen years ago, Tom Foley’s opposition to term limits made him the first Speaker of the House since the Civil War to be defeated for re-election. Historically, sitting speakers have been rarely defeated. In modern times, with the power of incumbency, it had never happened.

Galusha Aaron Grow, a Radical Republican from Pennsylvania, was the last speaker so turned out back in 1862, after a dozen years in Congress . . . but just a single term as House speaker. Ironically, Grow had replaced William Pennington, a New Jersey Republican who was defeated for re-election in 1860 after serving his only congressional term — the last portion of which he was installed as a compromise speaker.

Not much has been made of George Nethercutt’s amazing victory in 1994, because Nethercutt broke his word, refusing to step down from office after three terms.

Much is made of Foley’s historic defeat, however. In recognizing the passing of the former Speaker, Reuters reported that, “a conservative mood shift made him one of the few speakers ever defeated for re-election.” Time noted that, “Foley wasn’t the victim of scandal or charges of gross incompetence.”

Well, yes and no. Not “scandal” in a criminal way — or the X-rated sense that politicians are so fond of providing to a mass audience these days. But for the voters of eastern Washington, suing to overturn their vote for term limits was politically scandalous, indeed. (Personally, I like their standards.) As the Seattle Times explained in remembering the man, “Few things unleashed the ire of Mr. Foley’s constituents as much as his dogged campaign against term limits.”

Though he was wrong about term limits and I was right, let me say after 20 more years of experience that I like Mr. Foley’s style. He seemed a happy warrior, never inspiring personal animosity. Hey, in politics, that’s saying something.

Memories of Speaker Foley spark in me a remembrance of what the people of eastern Washington did at the polls some twenty years ago. Those voters certainly did not want to let a nice man like Tom Foley go. But neither could they countenance his lawsuit. They were not swayed in the least by the lavish gifts a Speaker of the House could bestow on their area, and instead, they voted, heroically, to fix the broken Congress.

May Speaker Foley rest in peace. And may none of the rest of us rest until we again have a Congress that truly represents the American people.
Paul Jacob is president of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge and former executive director of U.S. Term Limits. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail. This piece originally ran on the Town Hall website on Oct. 20, 2013.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Armor's 'Why Term Limits' an oldie but a goodie

I am sometimes asked for the best primer on term limits. I respond that I haven't written it yet!

I wish I were joking. There have been some good books written on term limits -- The Cato Institute's scholarly Politics and Law of Term Limits and George Will's thoughtful Restoration come to mind. But not a primer, not THE book to tell the whole story from the angles of history, current politics, philosophy, law and statistics.

Or so I thought. I picked up a used copy of John Amor's Why Term Limits? and realize my sniffy response will need to be fixed.

Amor's, with the highly accurate subtitle Because They Have it Coming, is such a book. It is dated, as it was published in 1994. But 1994 places it in the midst of nationwide term limits victories and it is full of the optimism and fire that characterized that period. Recall that 23 states term limited their federal and/or state legislators via primarily citizen-led initiative movements. This was just before the great disappointment of 1995, when the Supreme Court invalidated all Congressional term limits in their U.S Term Limits v. Thornton decision. Those were heady days.

While many of the specific examples and stats are dated, they are not out of date because nothing has changed: "Special interests donate 90 percent of their money to incumbents, because 95 percent of incumbents win, because special interests donate 90 percent of their money ... You get the idea." Yes, we do.

There is much to learn here even for seasoned term limits warriors. And there are some approaches to the issue I have never encountered.  One example is that Amor divides the House between those who have served six years or less and those who served longer, made some adjustments to keep the party proportions consistent with the 1992 Congress, and looked to see if the fresh reps voted differently as a group.

They did. A case in point was the bipartisan Penny-Kasich spending reduction plan in 1992. The veterans and the leadership (big overlap here, naturally) voted it down 216-219. But the newer reps -- those presumably more reflective of the current thinking of the citizens -- would have passed it overwhelmingly.

In sum, this is the primer you are looking for, at least until I -- or you -- write an updated one.