The Record Blog

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Term Limits Survive

[ Patrick Tuohey ]

Voters in Nebraska, our neighbor to the northwest, defeated an attempt to weaken the legislature's two-term limit last week by a margin of 2 to 1. A proposed constitutional amendment would have extended it to three terms.

While many here in Missouri argue that term limits harm the legislature because it forces out experienced legislators, no one seems able to quantify that impact. Do term limited state legislatures perform more poorly than state legislatures without such limits? If that was the case, one would expect someone to have conducted that study by now.

In Missouri, the average years of service for House members in 2001 was 5 years; in the Senate it was 9 years. So for many cases the 8-year limits have no real impact. David Valentine at the University of Missouri argues that as a result there is less "knowledge:"

Tenure can be viewed as a surrogate for knowledge about state government, the legislative process and the chamber in which members serve. The equivalency is very rough and highly dependent upon the characteristics of individual members. Nonetheless, the fundamental proposition is that a member with five years’ tenure will know more than one with only one year and the same logic applies to differentials across general assemblies.

So his conclusion is rough and highly dependent. Paul Jacob over at the blog This Is Common Sense argues that even the premise is flawed:

But could some other knowledge be of import to legislating, to governing? Like the knowledge of running a business and how laws and regulations impact business? Or could teaching experience provide insight into education policy? Or working in health care or agriculture or . . . well, you get the point.

Where term limits unarguably do have an effect is in stopping members of a general assembly for serving 20 or 30 years and therefore accumulating great personal power. This is when legislators fall out of touch with voters as did Sen. Dick Lugar, or fall afoul of the law like Rep. Dan Rostenkowski.

There will always be people or organizations with a great deal of influence in any capitol city be they unions, employers, fundraisers, contributors or just oversized personalities. It's the nature of any organization. But when it comes to conducting the people's business, no one should get too comfortable in public office.

11/14/2012 1:35:29 PM

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