Wednesday, August 23, 2006

It's A Republic, If You Can Keep It

I've got a few comments from folks this morning on the term limits issue that Toledo City Council handled yesterday.

If you would indulge my inner political science professor for a moment here:

Term limits were originally inspired by conservative critics of Democratic hegemony in Congress and various state legislatures, and reached the apex of their popularity in the late 1980's & early 1990's - right about the time Toledo's "strong Mayor" form of government was drafted, in which, term limits were incorporated.

As has been well reported, the language of the City Charter was insufficient to deny Bob McCloskey and Betty Shultz their end-runs around the term limits, achieved more or less by jumping from district to at-large seats. As it is, District Councilman Rob Ludeman is serving past the 12 years sold as council's term limit, and District Councilwoman Wilma Brown, if she decides to run next and win, would also exceed 12 years. In 2001 voters approved a change in the election cycle to stagger elections for at-large & district members, and I'm told the district members at the time would only agree to the change if the 2 year term they'd be serving, leading up to the new 2003 district elections, wouldn't count towards the 12 year term limits.

In any event, I supported cleaning up the city's charter language out of respect to voters who in the early 90's and 2001 approved term limits for councilmembers. In fact, at the suggestion of Dave Schulz, I led the effort to clarify the charter language to more accurately reflect the wishes of Toledo voters and prevent future cynical end-runs around the charter. We were successful yesterday, despite the pleas of some of my colleagues who sought exemptions for themselves to serve 13, 14 or 15 years.

Stepping back from the need to clarify our charter language in specific, I have never held it as secret that from a public policy standpoint, I believe term limits restrict ballot access, restrict voter choice, push power into the hands of staff, lobbyists, and others who remain permanent & far less accountable than candidates who face voters. I understand the frustration of many over "the same old, same old" being re-elected, the overwhelming influence of money on who gets elected, as well as criticisms of the powers of incumbency. I have suggested other reforms to make elections more competitive, and suggest the ultimate term limit is a motivated voter working to elect or defeat a candidate.

There are quality, non-partisan case studies aplenty that analyze the unintended consequences of the term limit movement. Here's one on Ohio from the National Council of State Legislatures.