Democracy By Pretense

Posted: May 17, 2015 12:01 AM

Last week, the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission abruptly canceled its planned public meeting.

On the OCMC’s agenda was to have been the proposed weakening of legislative term limits, from the current eight-year maximum to 12 years, which the august Legislative Branch and Executive Branch Committee had advanced, 8-1, to the full commission.

Perhaps the cancelation came from concern that supporters of term limits were riding to the capitol for a news conference to coincide with that now-scuttled meeting of the commission, announcing a campaign to confront this latest gambit against citizen-imposed limits.

Goodness, a meeting of this elite tribunal and the troubled electorate it supposedly serves might upset the careful balance of democratic pretense those conniving against term limits had hoped to conjure up.

“One of the things you always hear is it [the weakening of term limits] is for good government,” said former GOP state representative Matt Lynch. “Well, it’s elitist government.”

Let’s shoot straight. First, the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission doesn’t have anything to do with “modernizing” the constitution of the Great State of Ohio. Term limits are the law for 15 state legislatures — all were passed in very modern times, beginning in 1990. Ohio’s eight-year consecutive limit was enacted in 1992. Term limits are hardly outdated . . . except in the maniacal minds of career politicians.

Ray Warren, chairman of the Warren County Republican Party and the leader of the newly formed Eight is Enough Ohio, asked, “What’s modern about doing things to further pamper elected officials?”

Second, do you wonder why the OCMC is so overwhelmingly against term limits? After all, a recent poll by Ohioans for Good Government found a whopping 78 percent of Ohio voters like term limits and oppose changing them. One might think such a commission would be more reflective of that consensus public viewpoint.

Well, though it may seem the commission is designed specifically to elicit ideas from people of all walks of life, it’s actually designed to represent the interests of the legislature. The OCMC was created by the legislature. By law, 38 percent of its membership must consist of currently serving legislators . . . and even those comprising the commission’s other 62 percent are handpicked by legislative leaders.

Many also happen to be former legislators.

Yet, the Columbus Dispatch reports that, “Lawmakers are waiting to see if the Constitutional Modernization Commission recommends expanding legislative term limits to 12 years from the current eight years,” as if the OCMC’s approval would be some kind of independent public voice inspiring legislators to act. What a crock!

The phoniness of this process is insulting. A commission pretends to represent the people, but represents only a small subset of the people, mainly the politicians they are and those they represent.

Term limits are a common-sense, consensus reform to prevent politicians from becoming too powerful, too comfortable and privileged outside the restraints of citizen control. Politicians, along with their insider buddies, respond by ignoring what the public wants and pursue elaborate schemes against us.

And, in so doing, prove exactly the point that term limits advocates advance. Their very resistance to term limits itself proves the great need for term limits.

But the battle is joined. The contra-OCMC news conference not only scuttled the anti-term limits panel, the term limits message hit the news.

Referencing the advantages of “gerrymandering and campaign-finance regulations” for incumbents, Maurice Thompson, executive director of Ohio’s 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, said at the conference that “the only legitimate method of dethroning incumbents these days . . . is really term limits.”

“The idea of going from eight to 12,” explained Philip Blumel, president of U.S. Term Limits, “only benefits incumbent legislators who want to stay in town longer. . . .”

Blumel didn’t take a breath before adding a crucial kicker: “and special interests who have invested in relationships with those legislators.”