Paul Jacob

Politicians are suffering. And last October former Florida Supreme Court justice and sometime lobbyist Wade Hopping was hopping mad about it.

The trouble? Term limits. They really irk politicians, as the citizens who have supported term limits had every reason to expect. The longer representatives serve in office, the more removed the representatives become from the concerns and interests of citizens. But boy, how expert they become in serving their own interests, and the interests of the biggest wheels!

But that's not how Hopping sees it. He doesn't see citizens as winning anything with term limits. But there are winners. "The legislative staff," he says.

I hear this a lot from "experts" in the capitols of the states with term limits for their representatives. The problem, it is said, is that with less experience, legislators rely more heavily on staffs.

That sounds bad, doesn't it?

In Arizona, two recent studies each explored the terra incognita of the state's term limited legislature. They came to some dramatically different conclusions, most of which were downplayed in the media. The study by a group called ThinkAZ was so not "The Sky Is Falling" that most coverage consisted of quotes from hysterical politicians arguing against term limits, and not about the study itself; it just wasn't "good enough" copy. The other study had a more consistently negative spin to it, so it got more play:

[W]hile power may have been lost by legislative leaders, it seems to have been ceded to others. Unelected others.
The Morrison study found that the lack of institutional understanding of the legislative process has increased the influence of those people who know where the skeletons are buried: Capitol lobbyists, for example. And permanent staff, especially the partisan staff aligned with legislative leaders. Anecdotally, we have observed partisan staff ? people who historically remained on the sidelines ? assuming major roles in promoting legislation.

Now, the idea that lobbyists have gained power with term limits is laughable. Oh, you can probably find lobbyists who will advance the claim, when they argue against term limits, but such talk is a ruse. All in all, the shorter the terms served, the more time lobbyists have to spend re-investing in new representatives.

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.