Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Term Limits: Things You Didn't Know

I am sure you have read or heard about the many articles calling for the elimination of term limits.  You have been told that term limits are the cause of so many of our state's current problems; some have even blamed the current budget shortfall on "inexperienced" term-limited lawmakers.  But is there any evidence that term-limited legislators are less effective or that it takes several years to learn "the ropes?"
Well, thanks to long-time political pundit and writer for Inside Michigan Politics, Bill Ballenger, the truth can now be told.  Bill did some top notch investigation into the history of our great state.  He started by recalling the dire predictions of the Lansing State Journal in 1998 when they said the first term-limited class would have "the largest turnover in state history". He then methodically demonstrates that the first fully term-limited legislature (1999-2000) was not even close to the largest class of freshmen.
In fact a review of Michigan history shows that until the 1960's legislators limited themselves to around six years on average, without a law to make them do it. From 1837 (statehood) to 1999, one-third of the legislatures had more freshmen than the 90th (1999). And from 1837 until the twentieth century every class had a higher percentage of freshmen than the class of 1999.
The point is this: it isn't necessary for a legislator to have several years of experience before he or she can become effective.  In fact, government was intended to be simple enough that anyone with common sense and a basic education could take a turn at serving in government. Just look at the state constitution.  If you can understand it, you can be a lawmaker.
In fact, the best legislators, in my opinion, are the ones with the most experience as taxpayers, business owners, teachers, farmers, homemakers, doctors and yes, even lawyers! These are the people who pay taxes, comply with regulations, deal with fees and permits and licensing issues. They know what makes government work.  They are the ones who understand that government is supposed to serve the people, not the other way around.
So, when somebody tells you that term limits don't work, that we need experienced professionals, or for that matter, that we can't function with a part-time legislature, just respond by running for office! There will be at least 50 seats up for grabs next year.
By the way, there is much more great information in Inside Michigan Politics abut this subject as well as lots of other great "inside the beltway" news you won't find anywhere else. But, if you want to read it, you will have to subscribe. You can do so by contacting Bill Ballenger at impbb@comcast.net.  His website is www.insidemichiganpolitics.com.
Oh, and speaking of "Part-time" legislators...
...momentum for the idea of a time-limited, term-limited legislature seems to be picking up. Recent articles in the press suggest the idea has support. Links to recent stories and opinions are after each excerpt.
"It would force legislators to focus on the important issues. Just look at the ongoing budget mess to see the downside of a House and Senate with too much time on their hands. Start the clock ticking on a 90-day or 120-day session, and let's just see how much a motivated group of people can get done. We suspect the results would be the same without lawmakers wasting time on political posturing or bills that are little more than feel-good pap. Thirty-nine other states manage to do their lawmaking work with part-timers in charge. So can Michigan." http://www.mlive.com/news/citpat/index.ssf?/base/news-21/1181657132146240.xml&coll=3
"Think of a part-time Legislature as a preventive measure. With fewer days in Lansing, lawmakers would have less time on their hands to tinker with laws and propose useless, feel-good legislation that turns out to be unenforceable...They would also have fewer hours to plot methods to further skin taxpayers. The restricted legislative sessions would force them to get down to the people's business rather than dallying with proposals that we didn't send them to Lansing to deal with." http://www.theoaklandpress.com/stories/070507/opi_20070705170.shtml

"With the state's economy still in the tank, trust and faith in Lansing is bad and getting worse...In the face of this comes another interesting poll result: A majority of Michigan's voters favor making the Legislature a part-time body...It would appear the electorate doesn't like paying a lot of money for full-time lawmakers who can't seem to get much accomplished...Clearly, voters don't think they're getting a bang for their buck, which is why a movement to make the Legislature part-time could easily gain momentum."  http://hometownlife.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070705/OPINION01/707050378/1208/NEWS19
Read my constitutional amendment proposal here: House Joint Resolution H, http://www.michiganvotes.org/2007-HJR-H  Introduced by Rep. Jacob Hoogendyk, Jr. on March 20, 2007, to place before voters in the next general election a Constitutional amendment to replace the current full time legislature with a part time legislature that would meet for not more than 90 consecutive days each year, except if recalled on an extraordinary occasion. Legislators could not be granted any state-paid retirement or health benefits based on their legislative service, and their pay for those 90 days could not exceed 25 percent of the average for Michigan private employees. Legislators could only be reimbursed for actual expenses related to holding the office, and the total legislative budget in any one year could not exceed 1 percent of the state general fund.

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