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Term Limits

Copyright © 1997 by David E. Ross

More than seven years after I wrote this commentary condemning term limits, the great Los Angeles Times finally agreed in an unsigned editorial (representing the official position of the newspaper and not of any one writer).

The paradox of term limits becomes visible when voters approve ballot propositions to limit the terms of elected officials at the same time they are re-electing their own officials to additional terms. This paradox is easily explained. The voters respect and appreciate their own government officials, who come from within their own community and reflect their community's attitudes. However, the voters have no patience with officials from other communities that have different local attitudes and concerns. Thus, term limits are directed at the elected officials of "the others", the leaders of other communities where people have different views and philosophies.

When applied to executive officials — the President, governors, mayors — term limits places reasonable controls on officials who have unilateral power to act on their own rather than as part of a team of equals. Legislative officials — Senators, Congressmen, state legislators, city council members — cannot act unilaterally and thus do not need such controls. After all, history has proven that when one U. S. Senator begins to abuse the power of his office, there is a chamber full of Senators to control him. And voters have indeed demonstrated the ability to end the careers of politicians who are no longer truly representative of their communities.

Not only are term limits unnecessary for legislative officials, but they are also counterproductive if we want good government. With legislators relative novices, they are too soon out of office when they finally understand how to deal effectively with entrenched bureaucrats and experienced lobbyists.

We constantly hear that government should operate more businesslike. I challenge anyone to name a successful, efficient, effective business that automatically fires its managers as soon as they become experienced in operating that organization.

29 August 1997

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