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.

11 Comments:

Blogger bobthedad said...

Frank, at one time I held the same opinion about term limits. In a perfect world, it limits the choices of the voters. In the real world, politicians have demonstrated time and time again that the longer they remain in a position the more detached they become from real people. Real people don't shut down all the stores in a shopping center because some of the stores aren't profitable enough, and then expect merchants to come running back when renovations are complete. Real people would try to work out a way to keep merchants operating as long as possible. Real people don't try to bully police officers out of parking tickets. They shut up, pay the fine and get on with their lives. I know the intent was to limit the terms to 12 years, but the law was obviously written poorly and the voters could have chosen not to re-elect them.

I don't see publicly financed elections as a solution. I really don't want my tax dollars to pay for Opal Covey or Ed Emory's moments in the spotlight, and publicly financed elections won't stop the moveon.org or the swift boat veterans types of campaigns from doing what they do best - skirting the campaign finance laws.

The only way we will ever stop the special interests with the deepest pockets from influencing elections is by voters becoming informed and refusing to allow it to happen. Ultimately we get the government we deserve. Money dries up really quickly when it doesn't achieve the desired goal.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

Someone just pointed out to me this morning that The Blade ran an editorial on August 17th slamming term limits. I'm surprised I missed it.

bob, you make many fine points that I agree with, but I maintain my confidence in the clean money, clean elections approach.

your point about merchants is spot-on, as the Erie Streeet Market continues to sit empty after Carty ran everyone off with an abrupt 2 week notice several months ago.

Regarding Emery & Covey, I would support a threshold for qualifying for public financing that would exclude candidates without significant support.

Your 527 argument is a good one.

I'd point to laboratories of reform and suggest we keep our eye on how things turn out:

Clean Elections/Full Public Financing States/Cities

Albuquerque, New Mexico
City-wide
initiative
2005

Portland, Oregon
City-wide legislation
2005

Arizona
statewide and legislative
initiative
1998

Connecticut
statewide and legislative legislation
2005

Maine
statewide and legislative legislation
1996

New Jersey
legislative pilot project
legislation
2004

New Mexico Public Regulation Commission legislation
2003

North Carolina
judicial elections
legislation
2002

Vermont
governor & lieutenant governor
legislation
1997

source: Public Campaign

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to publicly thank Frank for working on the term limits clarification. It was truly classy and in the fine spirit of good government. The term limits debate - pro vs. con - is an interesting discussion. I tend to fall in line with bobthedad on this one along with his other comments. Also, I think the problems of turnover on council are not nearly as acute as maybe in a state or federal legislature.

I also hope that ethics policies Frank advocates passes soon and will do whatever I can in this effort.

If I am elected, I would certainly be open to any ideas Frank or anyone has about improving elections and getting more people involved in their government.

bob, If elected, I hope I would not grow arrogant in my office. In fact, I have told people this, that if I can't get what I want accomplished in 7 years (in this case) I don't deserve to be elected for a final term nor would I feel right about seeking another term. I don't want to be involved just to take up space or for my ego. I want to help move Toledo forward.

Frank, I saw that editorial after the fact when I was surfing and was a little surprised. You just have to be take what you get. Their support was key in getting this problem fixed.

Dave Schulz

1:35 PM  
Blogger Lisa Renee said...

I agree in an ideal world term limits would not be necessary.

I also believe the only way to end the power plays and some of the back room type dealings is to change the way political campaigns are funded. People are pressured to not run many times so that a primary is avoided which realistically takes away our choices as voters. Who is endorsed or who is not endorsed doesn't end up being based on who is the best candidate, it's based on who played the game the best or who owes who more favors. It demeans the very existance of our whole election process.

So, while I agree seeing the Opal's and the Emory's try to qualify for public funding is not something I'd be happy to see either, I also know of many hard working people who have tried or would like to try to run for office that are are beaten or disuaded because of a lack of money. Too often career politicians and career party members make decisions based on personal reasons rather than what might be best for the rest of us.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank,
I agree with the term limits 100%. I feel that there should be a limit on how many times an individual can be elected mayor (12 years of Carty is way too much).

9:44 PM  
Blogger Hooda Thunkit said...

Anonymous,
”…12 years of Carty is way too much…”

In all likelihood, and based on past voter “performance,” it would be 16 years and that's waaaay too much, IMO :-(

There are stupid politician’s tricks, and then, there are stupid voter’s tricks; statistically speaking, my money’s on 16 yesrs :-(

I sure hope I’m wrong though. . .

3:13 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Well, it seems pretty simple. The term limit was supposed to be 12 years on council.

Seems pretty simple - unless you get a bunch of politicans talking about it,

Sorry - couldn't help myself. Like shooting fish in a barrel...girls' gotta' have some fun....

10:52 PM  
Blogger Hooda Thunkit said...

Sorry, I left my 2 cents about campaign finance out on the last post.

I favor a cattle-call approach for the primary, with qualification thresholds kicking in after the primaries.

Otherwise, the real control for the primaries remains with the party machines, limiting our real choices from the get-go.

Yeah, we would fund the Eds and Opals at first, along with lots of others, but that's the way elections are supposed to be, not by choosing from what "the parties" endorse and finance.

In case anyone is still wondering, I am not a fan of the current 2-party system; I much prefer the unlimited party system, up to and including the primaries.

7:34 PM  
Blogger squeak678 said...

Frank,
hows the RV? "bobthedad" is right on with the comment that " we get the goevernment that we deserve!" And thats at all levels. We have a mayor who fancies himself an economic development guru. We would all be better off if Carty would shut his pie hole and stick to being the mayor of this one horse town.

5:44 PM  
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