Oh Those Crazy Michigan Lobbyists

Paul Jacob

8/31/2003 12:00:00 AM - Paul Jacob

Michigan has hit the jackpot when it comes to dumb sayings about term limits by lobbyists who hate term limits.

Sure, all anti-term-limit lobbyists tend to say the same dumb things about term limits--whether pining for the ancien legislative régime of Oklahoma or of Arkansas or of California.

But Michigan lobbyists are particularly good at the dumb sayings. Or at least their dumb sayings are particularly well reported by the press. My clippings of these, if stacked one on top of the other, would rise higher than the federal deficit if you stacked the federal deficit using blow-dried one-dollar bills.

In 1998, a Detroit paper reported that some legislators being kicked out of the Michigan House were ending up in the Michigan Senate. Lobbyist Bill Rustem complained that if the goal of term limits was "fresh faces, it didn't work."

A few years later, this same Rustem was telling reporters that Michigan was careening toward a "time of incredible uncertainty where it's difficult to predict what will happen when you lose the experience and institutional memory" of various elected officials. Uh oh. So now, too many fresh faces, huh?

In 2002, a lobbyist for the Michigan Education Association named Al Short announced that thanks to term limits, "skilled lobbyists...have far more power than ever before." So, term limits: bad. And how very public-spirited of Mr. Short, so eager to give back all that new power he's gotten as a result of term limits! Just like all the other 80 percent-plus of lobbyists who oppose term limits.

Another Michigan lobbyist quoted in the same story, Richard Cole with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and a leader of one of those periodic efforts to repeal term limits that occur every year or two in states with term limits, opined that the legislature had been weakened by the term limits law insofar as many of the new legislators take "four years to figure out where the men's room is." Why do I suspect that what Mr. Cole really meant was: "The new legislators don't jump fast enough when I snap my fingers!"?

Some Michigan lobbyists don't like it when advocates of term limits oppose the opposition of lobbyists to term limits. A few such lobbyists have even assumed the dour garb of ministers of speech.

Last year, Blue Cross of Michigan got miffed when radio ads sponsored by a term limits organization advised voters that Blue Cross was working to kill the state's legislative term limits. Leaping into action, Blue Cross representatives called radio stations to urge them not to air the ads. They then faxed an "Advisory to Station Managers" asking them to "consider refusing to run this ad."

The advisory contended that Richard Cole's efforts to weaken the term limits law were not done on behalf of Blue Cross. (For more information on Cole, see four paragraphs ago.) Yet as he led the assault on term limits, Cole had repeatedly identified himself by his Blue Cross title, "Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications"--including in signed columns attacking term limits. If Cole had been faking his relationship with Blue Cross during all the time in which he was trying to kill term limits, or inappropriately exploiting that relationship, you'd think Blue Cross would have blown its lid at Cole, not advocates of term limits. But I am rehearsing mere facts and logic here.

There is a lot of competition in the dumb-statement category. The professors have put in a good showing too, for example.

Calvin College political science professor Jim Penning says that the anti-term limit brigade in Michigan should pray for a good scandal. Politicians and lobbyists may spend their waking hours plotting against the term limits law, but as the professor notes, the plotting just isn’t going so well.

"It will be very difficult," he says. "Voters need to see the downside of term limits before they’re willing to change....We just got a budget compromise, so government looks like it’s running pretty smoothly." The horror.

But career politicians shouldn’t lose hope. "A major scandal might do it," says the scholarly professor.

Of course, Michigan voters don't share the disdain for term limits that obtains among many lobbyists and politicians. In a 2002 survey of 400 likely voters, conducted by Basswood Research, most respondents were supportive. In 1992, the initiative setting limits of six years in the House and eight in the Senate passed with 59 percent of the vote. By 2002, 74 percent said they would vote for it if given the chance.

But the sad truth is that all too many "leaders" in both government and business couldn't care less about public support for greasing the wheels of democracy, as term limits undeniably do. After all, their own personal convenience is at stake.

What are they supposed to be, statesmen? Heh.