Paul Jacob

Who's in charge, here? Politicians sometimes pretend it's the people, but that fine old republican notion gets lost in their actions. Consider the way so many politicians fight term limits. The voters put them into law and then their so-called representatives squirm to get out from under them.

Witness the recent writhings in Nebraska.

Actually, there's a long history of anti-term-limit squirm, there.

First time out, the term limits initiative won by 68 percent of the vote. But a challenge to the initial petition wound its way, long after the election, to the state's Supreme Court. The court accepted the opposition's whacko interpretation of the number of petition signatures required to place a measure on the ballot. Their constitutional augury determined the petition signature requirement to be nearly twice the requirement published by the Secretary of State and the Attorney General.

Though the function of petition requirements had been more than fulfilled by the overwhelming majority vote, and though the term limits petition contained far more than the number of signatures state government officials had said were required at the time, the judge threw out the whole term limit amendment. Why? Guess. (Hint: judges, too, are politicians.)

Now, with double the requirements for signature gathering, and a shorter deadline than before, term limit supporters rushed to qualify the initiative for the ballot again. All the mavens said it would take a miracle to get the signatures. The miracle happened, and the initiative went before the voters, who again supported it 68 to 32 percent.

This term limit law included limits not only on terms in the state's unicameral Senate but also on legislators sent to D.C. At that time, a case regarding that same subject was before the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided that only an amendment to the U.S. Constitution could limit by law the terms of U.S. Representatives and Senators. So the same Nebraska Supreme Court seized on the federal decision and threw out the entire term limit law rather than just the provisions to limit terms on federal representation.

Term limit activists got back at the judge who authored the opinions, campaigning against him in a retention vote. For the first time in the state's history, a sitting Supreme Court justice was not retained. Fittingly, the vote against the judge was 68 to 32 percent.

Then the activists put a revised term limit measure on the ballot to limit only state senators. Again a clear majority of Nebraskans imposed term limits on their legislators. But still the anti-term limiters kept their knives sharp.

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.