Just One Rauner Demand: Term Limits
Although term limits were applied to those who served for the original Articles of Confederation, it was a reluctant and physically drained President George Washington who set the precedent for a limitation of the seat of office of the Presidency, until some 150 years later when passage of Article XXII of the US Constitution (by 36 of 48 states) forced an end point (two terms only) for those who would be President of the United States.
Current Republican Governor Rauner has vigorously promoted the need for an historical reversion to this principal for our state General Assembly.
"We desperately need new faces and new ideas in Illinois politics. We need to make serving in government more about public service, and less about power and a government pension. That should be obvious," (Rauner) said.
In Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, the heated debate of our Founders against any possible return to a class-based rule or possibly perpetual aristocratic omnipotence in a newly born government is understandable. After all, the American Revolution had been fought and barely won, refuting such political constructions. No one wanted anyone to hold an office perpetually. Not anymore.
Washington would not have said it much differently. He considered his position as President as a kind of “Civilian Leader,” not a King. And he too feared the permanent entrenchment of power for the few and the wealthy.
Rauner has included term limits in his Turnaround Agenda demands, requiring members of the General Assembly to adhere to a tenure of no more than 10 years, senate or representative.
“The structure of our government has contributed to years of mismanagement of the state’s finances.“ By ‘structure,’ Rauner attributes our current unfunded liability of over $100 billion in pension debt NOT to the steady and recurrent diversion of money owed annually by the state to pet political projects, but instead to a “cycle of corruption” which allowed previous governors to negotiate “sweetheart deals with those who make money from the government.”
By the way, his simple causal reasoning has been refuted by Ralph Martire of the CTBA, the Pew Research Organization, COGFA, TRS, as well as the chief legal counsel for the Senate of the General Assembly, Eric Madiar.
Washington stepped aside, not down, after two terms of office. He was, according to reports in Chernow, a man who had lost his vigor, and was incapable of anything more than hollow and weakened speech. A decision based upon health as much as political consideration.
Today, in fifteen state legislatures, party members are subject to term limits. In 35 others there are no term limits, although those states have been subjected to ongoing attempts to achieve them. Voters have nullified some while courts finding objection with their methodology have legally prevented others. The fifteen states enforcing state term limits for legislators include the following:
Arizona: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 4 terms, 8 years
Arkansas: 16 years both houses, cumulative
California: 12 years cumulative, both houses
Colorado: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Florida: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Louisiana: H – 3 terms, 12 years; S – 12 terms, 8 years
Maine: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 4 terms, 8 years
Michigan: H – 4 terms, 6 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Missouri: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Montana: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Nebraska (Unicameral): S – 2 terms, 8 years
Nevada: A – 6 terms, 12 years; S – 3 terms, 12 years
Ohio: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Oklahoma: 12 year cumulative either or both
South Dakota: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
And has it helped those states? Have they become more attentive to the needs of their citizens?
According to US News & World Report, “evidence from states that have already adopted such measures actually suggests the opposite. States that have restricted their legislators’ time in office have seen no clear benefits but rather some unexpected negative results.”
“Voters were persuaded that term limits were desirable by several different arguments. One of the more compelling was that such limits would create a new breed of citizen legislators more reflective of the public’s will. In turn, this would weaken the grip that special interest lobbyists had on lawmaking. In fact, the backgrounds of state legislators elected after term limits were imposed closely resemble the backgrounds of those elected before such restrictions. They typically have previous political experience and are more educated and affluent than the voters who selected them. And while term limits have changed the way lobbyists do their business, they have actually increased their influence. The legislators elected after term limits were imposed often lack knowledge of the details of many complex policies and turn to lobbyists for information. These special interest groups actually report that they now work harder “educating” less knowledgeable legislators.”
They – Hamilton, Washington, Madison, and Jefferson - all feared the possible reversion to a more familiar and British aristocratic form of rule as well as an anarchic, bloody revolution witnessed in France in their recent history. It was an unfathomable balancing act for which they not only held the tightropes but also yanked on personal and political disagreements. They never forgave each other in the often-political internecine combat to keep our country on a path to avoid those European extremes.
Our own battles remind us of their obdurate positions. One feckless Governor wants this; the others refuse to give in. Now, a year beyond a real budget, our state faces an additional $14 billion of debt to purveyors. Drive by a Walgreens on any corner – then realize you and I owe them $1 billion (with interest).
So, who does win with term limits? Governors, of course.
“Still, almost everyone involved in the legislative process sees governors as big winners under term limits. In addition to their constitutional authority to sign and veto bills, governors in term- limited states control many top-level state jobs that legislators facing short stints will soon want. Whether it is a question of job ambitions, a shortage of information or sheer inexperience, the reality seems to be that legislators do a far less effective job of competing with governors for power once term limits take effect.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, that state's term-limited legislators make just half as many changes to the governor's budget as they did in the old days, representing many billions of dollars in legislative discretion that is no longer exercised. The NCSL/CSG study found similar budgetary effects in other term-limited states, including Colorado and Maine. "The crumbling of legislative power is clear across states," says Thad Kousser, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, and author of a book on term limits. "There's no more clear finding in the research than a shift in power where the legislature is becoming a less than equal branch of government."
On the other hand. the political landscape has undergone some mutations since the first battles of our Founding Fathers to maintain the original concept of a balanced Republic.
In the long time elapsed since the original Founding Fathers’ concerns and arguments (even duels), much has changed. The two party system they feared has become entrenched, the destructive possibilities of a for-profit system of speculation at the expense of democracy has occurred, the power of monetary influence in the political environment has metastasized, and the loss of a thinking populace and an impotent free press has become increasingly destructive.
Term limits? Think of them as a constant and continual flushing of the system – good and bad. A guaranteed loss of sense of history, responsibility and knowledge. The favorite legislator of any one district is destined to discard his/her advocacy in short order. Also, consider the increased veto power of a governor who faces a an influx of novices or a constantly changing legislature. Think about the ability of a wealthy plutocrat who has installed himself in office to force new and inexperienced challengers in a few years to attempt running against his well-financed competitors.
Starting to get the picture?
Madigan is not my friend, nor is he the friend of anyone who has a pension or holds to the basics of contract law. But he is not the single issue, as Rauner would have. He is not the “Voldemort” of the General Assembly. Like many in the General Assembly, Madigan is a politician who has delivered for his constituents, has ignored the future fiscal responsibilities which we will all pay, and has displayed an uncanny and frightening sense of how to magnify his office as Speaker.
But to place it all on him? C'mon, Governor. Many more, including your own party, have avoided the payments leading to our debt.
“It’s time we break the cycle of corruption…” says Rauner.
Like I should trust you?