Paul Jacob

The future of America does not hinge on the outcome of this August's primary election for tax collector in Seminole County, Florida. But then again, maybe in a way it does. "As they say," Seminole County Tax Collector Ray Valdes wrote to the Orlando Sentinel in 1989, "a walk of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

Tax Collector Ray Valdes went on to say much more in his letter to the newspaper:

  • "I strongly favor legislation limiting to 12 years the time a person can hold any elective office, city to federal."
  • "After 12 years, it would seem time to seek a different office or position and begin the cycle anew."
  • "We have a collective responsibility to find qualified candidates for public office who are willing to take the first step and commit to limited terms as a part of their campaign platforms."

When he wrote that letter, Ray Valdes had been in office for 90 days. Today, he's been in office for 16 years and is running to up that to 20.

No doubt that over time, Valdes, like many others, found the benefits of office quite enjoyable. In 1997, he sent a meandering two-page memorandum to the acting county manager, explaining the differences between legislative officials and administrative officials and how he sincerely didn't think anyone would want to term-limit administrative careerists like him.

Valdes concluded: "I could perhaps agree that 20 years is a sufficient time frame and 'term limit' for an administrative constitutional officer." And then he added a handwritten note: "I oppose changing the county charter to create term limits for any elected office."

Back in 1989, Valdes was full of the enthusiasm and spirit that animate all great human endeavors. I'll let you quietly say to yourself what he's full of now.

What Can Be Done?

Voters too often have no real choice. Politicians have so gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts that the vast majority of incumbents need not fear a general election challenge. In primary elections, the party apparatus holds significant sway, especially in discouraging the most formidable challengers. Voters are then forced to either keep an unattractive incumbent of their own party or to vote for a candidate, flawed or not, with policy positions they find repugnant.

And then there are all the other incumbent advantages from name recognition to fundraising leverage, which make challenging an incumbent anything but a fair fight.

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.