('76 Contributor) As truth seekers we are obliged to review everything, including term limits, with the utmost objectivity. My complaint about term limits is that this reform is far too modest to save us from what ails our society. A point from the book Reinventing Government was spot on, "The New Deal paradigm of government is obsolete." Clinton was president then and made the book famous, but did nothing to build on its few sound points. I approached the authors (Osborne and Gaebler) to ask why he had not articulated what the new paradigm might be. No response.
The Reason Foundation countered the left-leaning book with Revolution at the Roots. In short it said "follow the 10th Amendment" and equally offered more words than vision and failed to articulate a new paradigm. Each side followed with another round of rebuttal books, lots of interesting reading and a few fresh ways to view a few things, but no one really touched further on the need for a new vision ... a new paradigm.
Because a practical new vision has not yet been articulated by either the left or the right, problems fester. Public anger and frustration grow ... and you know what I'm talking about. The welfare state (that obsolete paradigm) labors to irretrievably entrench itself, at the same time global free trade and global tax competition threatens to bankrupt all welfare states. My point is ... we have a lot more substantial things to focus on than term limits at this point. My Reform Party friends in the mid 1990s never gained the understanding, that it was the system that corrupted the people more than the incumbents were fundamentally corrupt. They were incapable of thinking any more deeply than kick the bums out. Writing for the elimination of term limits will bring attention to your name. That may be the only benefit. An activist movement to that effect will fail (particularly with the current mood on the street) ... with the net result of your time and mine being consumed and diverted from items of greater consequence and current relevance. It saddens me as much as it anyone that profound leaders such as Bob Schaffer and John Andrews were victims of term limits. Yet, your title "brain drain" both insults our population and suffers myopic vision. It infers a point that I know Bob would never claim himself, that he is, without contest, the most intelligent of the 700,000 people in his CD. Surely there must be at least a few in 700,000 who can match his intellect and leadership. Your title also degrades their subsequent achievements since leaving office as less important than being in office. At best, such an assertion is debatable and my personal view is with Jefferson's and what they learned in serving helps them to contribute to society in their later endeavors ... making their in-office contributions less substantial than their subsequent contributions to society. We should be on our guard of anyone who views serving in office as an end. Like success and happiness it should be part of the journey. None of us should allow ourselves to fall into the trap of worshiping the golden calf of government or our elected officials. This view is counter to the Declaration ... counter to freedom and liberty.
Dennis Polhill is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute and co-chairman of the Colorado Term Limits Coalition. Editor John Andrews thanks Mr. Polhill for his gracious compliment above, but maintains as always that every glance in the mirror gave Andrews an argument for term limits -- namely his own fallen human nature, not to be trusted with power too confidently or too long.
('76 Contributor) As a political scientist I was trained to go to the root of issues, to trace the origins of events to the distant past and to reflect on the quality of government by reference to types of regimes. Frequent elections, conducted from the highest to the lowest level of government, enables public opinion to express itself, correct previous errors or reward elected officials for competent or incorruptible service.
Though there are times in American politics—like today—when popular uprisings occur that aim to throw out the “bums,” for the most part the American electorate—those who register to vote and actually vote in elections—is satisfied to re-elect incumbents. Over time these same incumbents tend to represent special interests, not the public interest, and they remain in office well past normal retirement age.
That is why many states impose “term limits” on service of public executives. Colorado is an example.
Article V, Section 3 of the Constitution of the State of Colorado states as follows:
Section 3. Terms of senators and representatives. (1) Senators shall be elected for the term of four years and representatives for the term of two years.
(2) In order to broaden the opportunities for public service and to assure that the general assembly is representative of Colorado citizens, no senator shall serve more than two consecutive terms in the senate, and no representative shall serve more than four consecutive terms in the house of representatives. This limitation on the number of terms shall apply to terms of office beginning on or after January 1, 1991. Any person appointed or elected to fill a vacancy in the general assembly and who serves at least onehalf of a term of office shall be considered to have served a term in that office for purposes of this subsection (2). Terms are considered consecutive unless they are at least four years apart.
Though Colorado Term Limits serve the purpose of changing the occupants of important seats in the State Legislature, those same Term Limits also have negative consequences.
Let’s begin with the quality of elected state legislators. Why is it that the Colorado State Legislature is laughingly referred to as “stupid”? A more considerate term might be “unskilled.”
Elected bodies that change membership frequently seldom retain the knowledge of past experience. For example, if your memory was erased every eight years, you would, at best, be described as “unskilled.”
Yorktown University’s Gary Wolfram reports that Republicans in the Term Limited state legislature of Michigan crafted legislation intended to bind the spending practices of Michigan’s Democratic Governor. The legislation was crafted imperfectly and, as a result, the spending power of Michigan’s Governor was increased.
Recently, the Minority Leader of the Colorado State Senate,Josh Penry, announced that he would not seek another term of office. After all, service in the legislature requires enormous sacrifices of time, and with Term Limits, those sacrifices will be for naught in a very short period of time.
With Josh Penry and many other worthy legislators departing public service per the terms of Article V, Section 3 of Colorado’s State Constitution, the state legislature loses their knowledge, commitment and leadership. That’s just those who serve. Term Limits deter ambitious politicians to seek election to the State Senate.
But, something else occurs as well.
When legislative and executive service is Term Limited the state bureaucracy grows in power. Power doesn’t evaporate just because elected politicians leave. It moves to more permanent offices. As the repository of regulations, historical knowledge and practices, non-elected public executives play increasingly important roles in Term Limited states. And the numbers of bureaucrats grow.
I encourage readers to click here to access statistics kept by the U.S. Census Bureau on the number of federal, state, and local government civilian employees and their gross payrolls.
You will find that Term Limited states have more public employees per capita than non-Term Limited states.
In other words, citizens will pay, one way or the other, by Term Limiting or not Term Limiting their elected state officials. States that have Term Limits will grow their professional bureaucracies and those that do not have Term Limits will have incumbents who stay too long in office.
Which is worse?
If you consider that elections are the means by which the will of the people is expressed, the empowerment of non-elected public executives is clearly worse.
I’m concerned, frankly, that Term Limits in Colorado block one avenue through which well intentioned politically active citizens can bring their knowledge and skill to serve the public good.
Remember Rick O’Donnell? He served Governor Owens as head of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. He ran for Congress, lost, and now works for an academic institution in Texas.
Remember Marc Holtzman? He served in Governor Owens' Cabinet. Holtzman ran for Governor, lost, and now works for Barclays Bank in London.
Remember former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff? He was term limited, decided to run for Governor and now is seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate.
The State Legislature of Colorado is not an avenue that the politically ambitious travel. They seek to become top officials with Colorado’s Governors and then run for federal office. This “brain drain” is very real because public service in the State Legislature is Term Limited.
The only way to stop this brain drain is to repeal Article V, Section 3, of the Constitution of the State of Colorado and allow men and women of ability and ambition to serve their fellow citizens as members of the State Legislature for as long as they are re-elected.
Dr. Richard Bishirjian is President of Yorktown University, on whose Yorktown Patriot blog this article first appeard as "Colorado’s ‘Brain Drain’ and Term Limits," March 28, 2010.