Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's time to end term limits

The following is my column for this week's Newton County News:

One of the biggest mistakes Missouri voters ever made was buying into term limits.
The measure was pushed primarily by Republicans, who were the minority party at the time in both the House and Senate, and had to deal with the corrupt regime of former Speaker of the House Bob Griffin.

It is hard to argue that many legislators become complacent when they get to Jefferson City and forget the everyday people who elected them in the first place. It is easy to be seduced by the special interests, who even in these dark days, seem to have a limitless amount of money to wine and dine those who can steer legislation in their direction.

But term limits have worked out just the way I said they would while writing against them at The Carthage Press in the early 1990s.

Once we limited legislators to eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate, we began losing those who were experienced enough to know how things run. Instead of trusting voters to know who should be in Jeff City and who should be sent packing, we set up a mechanism to artificially remove our elected officials just when they have finally learned their jobs and are capable of accomplishing something.

Now that the GOP has been in power for several years, and many legislators are about to become victims of term limits, another move is afoot to remove them…and one of those who has signed on to this effort is Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, whose district includes much of Newton County.

House Joint Resolution 13 received a “do pass” recommendation from the Elections Committee Tuesday, with only one representative dissenting.

The resolution is sponsored by Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, and is co-sponsored by 19 representatives, including Mrs. Ruestman, Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, whose district includes Barton County and part of Jasper County, Rep. David Sater, R-Cassville, and Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield. The bill also has Democratic co-sponsors, but none are from southwest Missouri.

HJR 13 would still limit legislators to 16 years total in the General Assembly, but they could spend all of those years in one chamber.

If the House and Senate approve this measure, it would go before Missouri voters in November 2010.

This proposal will draw the opposition of those who still think the legislature has become an idyllic place since it has to have constant turnover due to term limits. Unfortunately, while we put different bodies into the seats, the people who have the power are no longer the legislators, but the lobbyists and the special interests they represent.

With newcomers moving into Jefferson City every two years, the only people with an institutional memory of how things are done are the lobbyists, many of whom were once legislators. Every session, we see legislators spend much of their final term lining up their next job, on many occasions cozying up to special interests who can provide them with employment when their salaries are no longer the responsibility of the taxpayers.

If anyone doubts the harm this legislation has caused, compare those who represent the Joplin area now to the ones who were in office a few years ago. Back then, we had legislative powerhouses like Sen. Dick Webster and Rep. Robert Ellis Young, who forged long records of accomplishment…something that would not have been possible if term limits had been in place.

For the first time in years, the Joplin area has ascended to the top of the General Assembly, but it is hard to compare Speaker of the House Ron Richard and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Gary Nodler to those legends of the past. Both have reached the summit and will soon be headed out the door. Richard’s tenure as speaker will last only two years and then he will aim for the Senate seat currently held by Nodler.
HJR 13 is a flawed bill, as far as I am concerned. Forget the 16 years nonsense.
It is time to put an end to term limits.

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