Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In Defense of Term Limits

Delegate James King (R) has proposed HB660, which would bring up to a vote a Constitutional amendment to implement 2 term limits for the General Assembly, Comptroller, Attorney General, and Governor. Over at Red Maryland, Brian Griffiths makes some very valid arguments about term limits, but I will have to respectfully disagree.

The central point to Mr. Griffiths; argument is that Maryland will become like California, where deficits are out of control because the only memory left in the system is that maintained by unelected political insiders. While partially true - it fails to note a few key elements of the term limit proposal. First, the assumption is that Maryland will automatically fall into the trap that California has fallen into - he fails to note the number of other States which are doing just fine with term limits. Only 30% of States have legislative term limits, yet 4 of the lowest unemployment rates in the US are from States with legislative term limits. The number one and number four lowest State budget deficit as a percentage of their general fund...have legislative term limits.

Second, the system does not work well as is. We have the same people in office for decades voting the same way in a rarely changing legislature. With term limits it allows people the freedom to enter into office with their own individual agenda to hope to accomplish, and not be as beholden to the party establishment. People will be able vote based on their conscience and not merely based on party whipping. The concept of citizen legislators is something to which we should all strive. Politics should not be a career path - politics can not be the only thing that defines ones life. But, I've discussed this before, so I digress.

Third, I agree with Griffiths on his other proposed reforms. Single member legislative districts and independent redistricting are great ideas. I feel that a combination of reforms are necessary to fix our legislature and our government. Term limits will minimize permanent politicians; single member districts would make each legislator more directly accountable; and independent redistricting will prevent the Democratic establishment from removing all the Republican leaning districts.

Now, to deal with the undue influence of lobbyists? I propose that we require State legislators to publicly declare any relative, former staff member, or personal connection who is a declared lobbyist on any level of government. By publicly declare, I mean that they should list those connections on the official webspace provided them by the State of Maryland. Also, we should require that State legislators and their staff are required to wait at a minimum of 24 months following the end of their service to the State to become a State or federal lobbyist. These are just two proposals, but I am sure there are other common sense, Constitutionally sound reforms we can come up with reasonable limits and open information.

Preventing undue influence by "professional staffers" I think is less of an issue than Mr. Griffiths seems to appear. Historic Congressional data suggests that the average staff person serves in office for approximately 5 to 6 years, compared to the average term of a Congressman of 10 years. I've never worked in a legislative office, so I can not discuss with confidence on the culture. All I know is that if I were a newly elected legislator that I would only want minimal carryovers and staff that was dedicated to assistance with legislative research. With term limits, aides would be focused less on those activities that many legislators do to bolster reelection bids (the press releases, mass mailings, etc) and more on the job of helping the legislator...legislate.

Now, this is not the perfect proposal, I think bringing this idea forward is the right idea. I would be more supportive of 3 terms for State Legislatures to allow for more memory in the Legislature, but even openly discussing the possibility is a step in the right direction. Openly debating the pros and cons of term limits is good and healthy.

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