Paul Jacob

Voters in 16 other states also term-limit their state legislators, nipping incipient corruption in the bud and regularly rejuvenating electoral competition. That's not good enough. What we need is 50 states with a robust initiative and referendum process, 50 states with gubernatorial term limits, 50 states with state legislative term limits, and 50 states whose citizens have the power to recall any elected official. I don't want to forget the U.S. Congress. They should be term-limited too. We can start with congressmen who have served forty years or more.

Most citizens understand--even if most politicians and pundits don't (or pretend they don't)--that the relationship between voter and elected official is hardly one of one-to-one infallible representation of the voter's values. To be sure, voters share the blame in how things are done in Sacramento or any other state capital. The majority of voters may support unnecessary and destructive government spending as much as they support very necessary and constructive tax cuts. They often do want to have their cake and eat it too (albeit often at the prior urging of career politicians). The most basic reform we need is cultural change that informs political change.

But it is also true that a political dynamic kicks in once a politician attains office, a dynamic that has little to do with promoting either the common good or the most-commonly-demanded goods, and a lot more to do with currying favor with special interests, getting re-elected at all costs, and exploiting the sundry advantages of incumbency to do so. If the excesses of the career politician are going to be checked, the voters are much more likely to do the checking than the career politicians.

Yes, California voters--some of them--re-elected Gray Davis in November of 2002, even though his dastardly nature was by then abundantly evident. What proponents of the thesis that "we already have recalls, they're called elections" tend to ignore, however, is how heavily the deck was stacked against the voter in that election (as it is in many another typical election, especially at district levels). Qua incumbent, Davis enjoyed the typical free ride most incumbents enjoy in primaries. And qua Davis, he succeeded in doing his vitriolic best to ensure that his Republican challenger who emerged to run against him was the politically weakest of the pack.

The result: voters stayed home in droves. And those who did vote disliked both candidates pretty much in equal measure. Lower turnout meant more electoral power for voters eager to continue reaping special-interest booty. So Davis squeaked by, and Californians got migraines.

The recall did not utterly sweep away the advantages of incumbency. After all, 45 percent of Californians were masochistic enough to want to keep Davis. But the recall did allow voters to decide on the governor's fate up-or-down in a way that they could not on election day 2002. And Californians flocked to the polls to do so. Perhaps every election day everywhere should be preceded by recalls of current incumbents.

If this is "mob rule," let's have more.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.