Sunday, January 24, 2010

Editorial: Term limits exist for good reason

The Legislature is considering a move to repeal term limits, and the unnamed Courier editor is predictably steamed that any politician might have the temerity to resist one of his favorite policies. He casts dark aspersions on their motivations, as usual, and farbles on about how we need a running clock to keep lazy pols from "wasting time" in office. Legislation is such an easy job, after all.

I've been there on a weekly basis through over seven years of legislative experience with Rep Lucy Mason, heard her stories (those we talk about on the radio and those we can't), and watched her evolution from fresh-faced, idealistic freshman to hard-bitten, tempered senior. I have no doubt at all that she is a far smarter and more effective legislator now than in her first term, and that no one comes into the job with much useful understanding of how the state works or any knowledge of the players involved.

Term limits shift institutional memory and organizational power to staff (who, if they're doing their jobs correctly, do not impart it to legislators) and lobbyists (who use it at least selectively and often strategically). A less-experienced Legislature overall means slower and lower-quality training for freshmen. A more tenuous institutional culture empowers newbies to reinvent the wheel with a square rim and call it innovation.

It's hard for people who are already convinced to understand, but the train wreck that we're currently experiencing at the Capitol is largely the direct result of inexperience in the Legislature and the Governor's office. And the Courier would have us not only maintain this as received wisdom, but extend it to Washington. As if our national politics aren't sufficiently dysfunctional.

Perhaps most convincing to me on this issue is that the freshman Rep. Mason was a true believer in term limits, and by her junior term she was completely convinced that the policy is idiotic, not because she will be unable to continue working 72 hours a week of constant frustration and flak from people who think she's a criminal for $25K a year, but rather because she really does care about effectively addressing the problems we face as a society. I don't always agree with her policy choices, but I'll defend to the end her sincerity and abilities in public service. She's better for her experience, and that's the sort of legislator I want working for me.

Term limits arbitrarily prevent me from voting for the representative I want.This I consider a substantial impairment of my most basic constitutional right. The editor makes his living on the First Amendment. One would think he'd be more protective of the body of that great document.