It’s funny what makes you change your mind.
All these years I have been against term limits for elected officials. My reason: having old-timers around who knew the ropes made our government better by their insights. But one incident recently made me change my mind on the subject. Now I feel comfortable for being positive on limiting public officials’ terms of office.
Until recently, there were other reasons I had been against limiting the time a public official could serve. First, there is an automatic term limit, that is, an election every few years, with the voters deciding whether to keep (or limit) the public servants in office. Yes, it’s an unofficial limit.
Another reason against term limits is to provide continuity for government. If you had term limits, the thinking went, that would mean our governments would lose many solid, good public servants periodically, and those in office would not have years of background. To me, previously, that was a bad move.
What changed my mind was the decision this year by the Nebraska’s unicameral legislature to abolish the death penalty. Who would have thought a Midwest conservative Republican legislature would turn over the death penalty? They even did it over the veto of the sitting Republican governor. How unusual! How brash! What an improvement!
Then I heard the reason for the change in Nebraska, some maintain. It’s because that state now has term limits, meaning that Nebraska is not served by the same old gang of politicians that returns to the Lincoln capitol year after year and legislates the same way all the time. Certainly other states with long-serving legislators don’t make fast turns-around like Nebraska has.
Of course, with term limits, sometimes legislators may change long-established laws faster than is good for the state. That may be the outcome of Nebraska abolishing the death penalty, though we don’t think so. But this group of relatively-new legislators have moved quickly with much of the new thinking about the death penalty, and get our “thumbs-up” for this decision.
What it tells us is that in states ruled by the same mostly-re-elected bunch of professional politicos, term limits would be welcomed by the rank-and-file voter. It would really be upsetting the political apple-carts, and bring new life to any Legislature. It should also encourage “citizen-legislators,” rather than always-hanging-around politicians.
Our citizenry would soon recognize that now they had a chance to influence those new in office, and even possibly get good legislation passed. We would hope that the newly elected officials could resist the attempts by the high-paid lobbyists to be such an influence on our governing bodies. One good change from adopting term limits is that it would return our governing system to what many of the Founding Fathers envisioned: everyday citizens giving time to serve their country for a few years, then retiring to make room for other everyday people to get involved in government. Eliminating the hanger-on professional politicians would not be a bad move.
Any change to favor term limits will be a radical move for many people. Yet the Nebraska vote caused us to “think outside the box” about term limits. What we thought was a bugaboo… seems like a pretty good idea now.