Paul Jacob

Maine legislators made a big mistake with the term-limits-weakening measure they referred to voters last Tuesday: they forgot to lie.

They didn’t cheat or steal, either. The measure’s ballot title pretty much admitted that, if passed, it would loosen the current term limits. It read straightforwardly: “Do you favor extending term limits for Legislators from 4 to 6 terms?”

That phrase “extending term limits” isn’t quite right — it’s terms that were to be extended, not limits — but the final phrase of the title set it all straight. And that’s to the credit of Maine legislators. It is also why the measure went down in flames — 67 to 33 percent. Just like previous attempts in Arkansas and Montana in 2004, and in California back in 2002, voters said no. Loudly.

After the vote, Jennie Browser, with the National Conference of State Legislatures, told USA Today, “It doesn’t matter how many academic studies show term limits don’t do much good. Voters like term limits.”

Of course, the “studies” Browser references consist largely of compiled complaints from pols, lobbyists and insiders. The public feels their pain, certainly. But approvingly.

No doubt that’s why, way out west, California Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and their respective political hacks are not essaying anything so silly as honesty. Instead, they’re embracing the big lie. They are selling their measure, Proposition 93, as a way to make California term limits even tougher.

The measure mimics the successful sleight-of-hand performed by an ensemble cast of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, and the city’s politicians in 2006, when they tricked voters into weakening the city’s term limits. These tricksters conned voters into believing the measure would actually impose tougher limits. The lie paid off.

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.