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Thursday, November 23rd, 2017Last Update: Sunday, November 5th, 2017 11:44:31 PM

Term Limits and Other Gimmicks

By: Steve Byas

When I was preparing my recent column (see Summer edition) and talk on “Our Michelle Obama Legislature,” which addressed the degeneration of our Republican-dominated Oklahoma Legislature, I did some serious thinking on the question of just how did we get into this mess?

Grass-roots Republicans know what I mean by “this mess.” Despite overwhelming Republican domination of the Oklahoma Legislature, our state government has grown and grown, and the Republican majority even passed a clearly unconstitutional cigarette tax last session, dishonestly calling it a “fee.”

And of course, they actually voted, with only seven Republicans voting no in the House, to subsidize grocery stores, an idea that apparently originated with Michelle Obama!

There are various reasons for this “mess,” and I do not argue that term limits is the only cause of this situation we find ourselves in, but it is certainly a large part of the problem.

The argument for term limits is well-known: the longer someone is in office, the more they become “part of the problem” of advocacy for Big Government. Therefore, if we just limit the time a person can spend in the Legislature, fresh new members will get elected, go to the Capitol and vote to roll back the size and scope of government, defend liberty, and respect the Constitution.

Garbage.

We have not seen some “army” of Barry Goldwaters descending upon the building that sits at 23rd and Lincoln as a result of term limits. Far from it – more like a bunch of Michelle Obamas. The raw facts are that the most liberal bunch at the Capitol are the freshmen, who were supposed to be the cavalry riding to the rescue.

The most conservative bunch? Republicans in their last term.

Digest that for a minute. The next most-conservative bunch are the Republicans in their next-to-last term. The ones in their fourth term (third in seniority) are the third most conservative. At least partly because of term limits, our Legislature is growing increasingly liberal and statist. What happens, I suppose, is that the new legislators we are selecting are often anointed by the powerful special interests. They had trouble beating the incumbents, like Jason Murphey and Paul Wesselhoft, who had strong conservative scores, so they let term limits beat them. Wesselhoft consistently scored in the nineties on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, but after he was term-limited, his replacement scored a dismal 20 percent.

When these strong conservatives term out, they are being replaced with new members who tend to be less conservative and less passionate about limited government. That is simply a fact.

One argument I heard many use for why we should have term limits was that without them the Democrats would still be in control of the Legislature. Really? Then why did the Republicans take over so many other states, even those without term limits? Ronald Reagan, in a positive way, and Bill Clinton, in a negative way, had more to do with Oklahoma going Republican than term limits.

California has term limits! That doesn’t seem to have filled that legislature with a bunch of Ron Pauls. If the entire California Legislature were term-limited in the next election, the new body would be pretty much like the old. Do you really think if Nancy Pelosi were term-limited, her replacement would be a Rand Paul or Ted Cruz-type figure?

The problem is with the electorate, not the legislators. In ancient Rome, Senator Marcus Cicero lamented that Julius Caesar’s attack upon the liberty of Rome should be blamed more on the people of Rome than Caesar – because they supported him. I can promise you this. If the voters became educated to the benefits of limited government, liberty, and constitutionalism, then the character and composition of the Legislature would change. Until that happens, we can expect the same self-serving bunch of statist legislators to stay in office, with or without term limits.

Instead of campaigning for some politician who runs as a conservative but votes progressive, maybe we should shift our efforts to educating the voters on the political philosophy of limited government, free enterprise, and liberty.

Term limits for legislators transfers more power to the executive branch.

Yet, many well-meaning individuals out there favor term limits, despite this evidence I have presented. Term limits is just another “gimmick” that does nothing to advance the cause of liberty. Other worthless ideas include cutting legislative pay, doing away with their pensions, and the like. Cutting a legislators’ pay or his pension does nothing to improve my life. I suppose it makes some “feel good” because they’ve “stuck it to the Legislature.” Sort of like the delusional idea that term limits will produce a better quality, more conservative legislator.

And it is sort of like the dreamers who think an Article V national constitutional convention could correct our problems by passing this or that amendment to the Constitution. Two things: 1) If the Congress, the courts and the president are not going to obey our present Constitution, what makes you think that they’ll obey an amendment?; and 2) the same electorate that sent Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell to Congress will be the same electorate picking the delegates to the Con-Con. (Some argue that, no, it will be the state legislatures. Is that supposed to make me reassured?)

It is all gimmicks. Instead of gimmicks, let’s work on persuading our fellow citizens to support limited government, free enterprise, and liberty – not the ideas of Michelle Obama.

About Steve Byas

Steve Byas is editor of the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper. He may be contacted at: byassteve@yahoo.com

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