Paul Jacob

The media kept telling us that support for term limits was waning. But apparently voters didn't get the memo.

Throughout the year, a steady stream of newspaper articles dumped on term limits. They all shared the same method: a reporter cloistered in the capitol interviewing the politicians and lobbyists who lurk therein. Lo and behold, term limits weren't "working" for these fellows. No sirree.

In those vaulted political cathedrals there just wasn't much support. Of course, the support for term limits from politicians and lobbyists could hardly wane, since they had never supported term limits to begin with.

Finally, on November 2nd, voters in Arkansas and Montana got to write their own story. In both states, voters went to the polls to confront legislator-referred ballot measures that would as much as double legislators' time in office. And they crushed the measures. The margins were massive ? even bigger than when citizens passed these term limit laws by overwhelming percentages a dozen years ago.

Legislators had hoped to convince the public that they just loved the term limits voters slapped on them, but golly gee whiz, didn't voters think that doubling how long they could stay in power would be a big improvement? Voters responded with a polite "NO."

Arkansans defeated Amendment 1 by 70 to 30 percent; Montana voters trounced Constitutional Amendment 42 with a 69?31 margin.

In Montana, legislators put an honest ballot title on their measure. This meant they gave up early, so that neither side spent any real money, though Montana advocates for term limits quickly mobilized more than 1,000 supporters across the state.

But in Arkansas legislators were more cunning. They wrote quite an interesting ballot title to explain their weakening of the limits. Their ballot title didn't bother to mention the effect of the amendment ? to as much as double the limits. Heavens, no need to do that. Instead, it said only that Amendment 1 would "establish term limits."

Polls showed the tricky language worked; voters were tricked. But a grassroots campaign along with TV and radio ads alerted voters in time. The measure went from ahead to behind faster than you can say "Sneaky Politician."

An Arkansas Democrat-Gazette report of the results read, "Proposed Amendment 1, which would have expanded the number of terms allowed to state lawmakers and enjoyed strong support around the state Capitol, failed to carry a single county Tuesday and drew only about 30 percent support statewide."

The message is so loud and so clear that even the most citizen-deaf legislators should be able to comprehend: don't touch term limits!


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.