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Good Government/Reform Fri Oct 23 2009

The Term Limit Debate: What About Generational?

I've argued in the past in favor of term limits, and addressed the concern that the government bureaucracies, or career staffers, would simply come to dominate government, and that legislators, seeing their pending unemployment, would spend the bulk of their time in office jockeying for private sector jobs or higher office. (The response was that, of course, legislators are kind of putty in lobbyists' and bureaucratic operators' hands now). I do think that the argument around unintended consequences is a good one and worth keeping in mind.

Larry at Archpundit sums it all up in a characteristically succinct line:

Does it happen in Illinois too-sure, but experienced legislators are the best defense against determined lobbyists.

While I agree with Larry (and the Rich Miller piece he cites) that term limits could likely end up having unintended consequences, like shifting power to the executive bureaucracy and lobbyists who are permanent residents of state government, I don't think this rules out term limits completely. It only rules out unreasonably short term limits (like Michigan's).

What makes a state Representative "seasoned" or experienced enough to know the players in government and how to move a piece of legislation? A combination of natural instincts, political influence, and relationships with legislators built on mutual respect and trust. Those latter two can only develop with time. So having a one-, two-, or three-term limit on legislators (particularly with no similar limit on the governor) is not a good idea.

But what about five, or ten? At some point, there is diminishing return, and legislators accrue power based on their seniority and immobility out of proportion to their legislative prowess or willingness or desire to move legislation at all (Cf., Phil Crane).

As I stated in that earlier piece, lobbyists thrive on long-standing personal relationships, not cyclical bullying. Who do we see going down for scandals with lobbyists? Is it more often some fresh faced legislator with no influence? Or their relationships with powerful, long-serving legislators? Tom Delay, Ted Stevens, Randy Cunningham, Dan Rostenkowski, potentially Charlie Rangel--these are scandals that come about because people have accrued power over time, not the result of powerful lobbyists preying on the uninitiated.

I understand the point of view of those, like Larry and Rich, who oppose term limits: there is a distaste for "naive" reformism that paints with a broad brush. But surely limiting one person to a decade in office as one piece of reform to chip away at dynastic politics would do more good than harm. The organization put Bilandic in there to replace Daley; even with a strong organization "controlling" the office, eventually the bench depletes and elections can become more competitive.

 
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Feature

Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...

Civics

Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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