Paul Jacob

The limits Oklahomans passed back in 1990 are just this election finally creating turnover. And thank goodness. For the first time in memory, there is a real battle for control of the legislature, with 42 seats (28 percent of the body) open and up for competition.

In the eleven states where term limits have kicked in for legislators ? Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and South Dakota ? polls show that voters continue to support limits by solid margins, usually even higher than the big margins these measures originally garnered.

For instance, Florida voters approved the "eight is enough" term limits law with an incredible 77 percent of the vote in 1992. When grumbling careerists saw the limits about to remove them from office, they attempted to pass an amendment to block term limits. Were legislators picking up on waning support? Hardly. A poll demonstrates that 78 percent of Floridians now support the limits! And once voters were alerted to the scheme, the legislators scurried back into the dark corners of the capitol.

In California, where term limits won narrowly in 1990, 52 to 48 percent, a 2002 measure to weaken those limits failed by a greater percentage, 58 to 42. In both elections, politicians and special interests lost while outspending supporters by many millions of dollars. Polls consistently show that after the implementation of term limits began to remove incumbents, public support has soared higher, as much as 17 percentage points higher than when limits were first passed.

Rick Farmer, one of the editors of The Test of Time, told reporters after a recent academic conference on the issue, "Lobbyists, legislators, and all those who work in government are working in several states to get movements going to overthrow term limits. But they keep running into the voters, who are still convinced they are a good thing."

Yet, even with solid support from voters ? a slightly important group, being both the owners and customers of government ? 2004 is a critical year for the term limits movement. Clearly, what the public wants matters not at all to the political insiders, and as limits begin to take effect more completely, the political insiders are getting more and more desperate. And smarter.

Gone is any serious effort by legislators to repeal term limits, since everywhere save Maine the limits cannot be removed without a vote of the people. Instead, their goal is to weaken, delay implementation, or otherwise undermine the limits and their effect on the professionals who dictate public policy.

In Montana and Arkansas, legislators have placed measures on the ballot to as much as double the amount of time politicians can stay in office. These measures are funded by the very same well-heeled special interests who years ago spent big money against term limits. Now they claim they want to "fix" term limits so they'll "work" - for them.

Over 99 percent of the money for this year's weaken-the-limit measures, same as the 2002 attempt to undermine limits in California, comes from special interests ? teachers' unions, public employee unions, monopoly industries and those industries heavily subsidized and regulated by politicians. These are the same political big shots whose lobbyists swarm our state legislatures and who fervently oppose the limits they now dishonestly say they support . . . if only the term limits were long enough to restore domination by careerists once again, say perhaps 20, 50 or 100-year limits.

The political professionals want government run for the benefit of the political professionals ? from lobbyists, whose influence is heightened by "career" relationships with legislators, to professors, enamored with professional and tenured status (including their own), to the politicians themselves. In their view, they are the experts who should dictate policies . . . for our own good.

Citizens see it much differently. And rightly so. If you are looking for a realistic, sophisticated class analysis, skip pseudo-scholarly tomes such as The Test of Time; try a cab driver or a bartender or the deacon of your church. The average citizen knows that the politicians aren't working for them any longer. Where is the real division in society? Between politicians and the citizens.

Who will ultimately win? That depends on us, on the people. We, mere citizens lacking any "special interest" apart from our interest in good government, must commit to battling the entrenched self-interest of the political insiders whose currently tenuous claim on power rests on weakening and then killing term limits.

My money is on the people. What about yours?

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.