Matt Towery

Let's turn back the clock. It's 1994.

That should be music to the ears of Republicans and true-red conservatives everywhere.

Recall that a GOP to-do list called the "Contract With America" was front and center in the public eye. Term limits for elected officials was a key provision.

Nowadays, opinion surveys more and more show that many Americans who consider themselves conservative Republicans are increasingly annoyed at GOP-elected officials. Some of these voters appear ready to throw their own bums out. But they're not about to vote for Democrats to replace them.

For these disaffected voters, a third major political party in America would be nice. The Libertarians, for example. But neither the Libertarians nor any other party is able to field candidates these days in all congressional and state legislative races.

But the two-party system might work just fine if term limits were to make a comeback.

Once the Republicans took over Congress in '94, they quickly found a plausible excuse for not imposing term limits on themselves. They said the idea was still sound, but that term-limiting themselves out of office might have the unintended consequence -- unintended by them, anyway -- of turning things back over to the Democrats.

In many states where term limits were passed for state legislators, it was some of those same legislators who fought the mandated end to their lawmaking tenures through court challenges or subsequent legislative maneuvers.

Even so, some states still have term limits. And in some cases, it's not only the law, it's also working as intended.

Consider Florida, where state legislators are limited to eight years in office. Florida was once on a short list of states notorious for believed rampant corruption. Now the state is perceived as having one of the cleanest lawmaking bodies anywhere.

In fact, the current termed-limited legislature there has gone so far as to end all gift-giving from lobbyists to lawmakers -- not even a cup of coffee. (Yes, there are loopholes, but those are now being looked at.)

At first, there was worry that too many green, naive legislators would be making laws in the state capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.

Instead, the system has matured into one that allows for an orderly system of leadership succession. (There's currently one such nasty fight going on in the state Senate. But this is an exception to the general rule. How many states can say who their next three House speakers will be? Florida can.)

Term limits serve to show lawmakers to the door before they become so entrenched and powerful that they turn into kings and queens of arrogance and self-righteousness.


Matt Towery

Matt Towery is a former National Republican legislator of the year and author of Powerchicks: How Women Will Dominate America.
 
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