What about those term lim­its?

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - Ed­i­tor’s note: Leo Lynch, an award-win­ning colum­nist, is a na­tive of Ben­ton County and has deep roots in north­west Arkansas. LEO LYNCH For­mer JP, Ben­ton County

On Satur­day, Aug. 4, 2018, the North­west Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette edi­tion had an ar­ti­cle ti­tled “Pro­posal would set new term lim­its.”

This was on the front page and the sub­ti­tle noted that “the mea­sure qual­i­fies for Novem­ber 6 bal­lot.” It seems like we have heard this tune played more than once. The ob­ject of the pro­posal (voter ini­ti­ated) a Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment, would limit state leg­is­la­tors to serv­ing a to­tal of 10 years. There are sev­eral choices, or com­bi­na­tion of choices be­tween the Se­nate and State Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, but the to­tal can­not ex­ceed 10 years.

There is much more be­hind the ef­fort to set the re­ported strictest term lim­its in the na­tion than just an­other voter sig­na­ture au­tho­rized ini­tia­tive. Com­ing on the heels of the State Leg­is­la­ture’s re­cent crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties, the state’s law­mak­ers cred­i­bil­ity is at a very low point in the eyes of many. Like any other is­sue there are some good points and some bad, but at this point in time the ques­tion of term lim­its goes be­yond hav­ing an ex­pe­ri­enced leg­is­la­ture. Who can the vot­ers trust in our state’s capi­tol when even the 2014 amend­ment (dis­guised un­der an­other ti­tle) was used to undo voter ap­proved term lim­its?

Brenda Blagg, in a colum­nist ed­i­to­rial ti­tled “Term Lim­its Re­dux,” gave a thor­ough but brief his­tory of the term lim­its de­bate. The ethics re­form bill of 2014 ac­tu­ally re­vised the term lim­its es­tab­lished and con­firmed by the vot­ers in 2004. Vot­ers in the state need to be aware that the leg­is­la­ture will ar­gue that in­ex­pe­ri­ence in the leg­is­la­ture’s av­er­age ten­ure lim­its their ac­tiv­i­ties. Since any House mem­ber can be re­moved every two years and a Se­na­tor every four years by their vot­ing con­stituents, av­er­age years of ser­vice in the bod­ies is not the is­sue. The qual­ity of leg­is­la­tion is more a func­tion of the leg­is­la­tors’ char­ac­ter and will­ing­ness to risk re­elec­tion than ten­ure.

It was a tremen­dous dis­ap­point­ment to me in 2004 when I read the ethics re­form bill and found the ex­panded term lim­its tied to it. The cre­ators of this com­bi­na­tion of goals into one cov­er­ing was not an ac­ci­dent and pro­vides a mea­sure of the need for every voter in Arkansas to stay aware of who they vote for and how their leg­is­la­tors vote on spe­cific is­sues. That is not al­ways easy for any one work­ing and/or try­ing to be a part of their fam­ily’s life, but any­thing less can lead to this type of out­come.

We have some ex­tremely ded­i­cated leg­is­la­tors whose char­ac­ter is above re­proach and we are blessed to have some in Ben­ton County’s mem­bers. The un­for­tu­nate thing is our ten­dency to as­so­ci­ate all politi­cians with the at­tributes of the few we read about plead­ing guilty to crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties that harm the vot­ers and them­selves.

Pol­i­tics is not for the “faint of heart.” If you con­sider the pres­sure on a po­ten­tial can­di­date, it is fairly easy to see why there are wealthy, or at least suc­cess­ful, peo­ple run­ning for the po­si­tions. At the lo­cal level, look at the peo­ple who seek po­si­tions on school boards in the larger cities. When you progress to po­si­tions in the State Leg­is­la­ture, name recog­ni­tion is a key fac­tor and if one needs to pro­mote an in­di­vid­ual with­out pre­vi­ous name recog­ni­tion, money — ei­ther one’s own or the abil­ity to raise money — is the key in­gre­di­ent. This gives rise to the mon­eyed back­ers’ in­flu­ence and the clout of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Arkansas’ re­cent po­lit­i­cal em­bar­rass­ment seems tied to the Gov­ern­ment Im­prove­ment Fund and the abil­ity of State Leg­is­la­tors to di­rect sums of money to spe­cific projects or ac­tiv­i­ties. The idea may be a good one, but ob­vi­ously proved too much of a temp­ta­tion for Jon Woods, Micah Neal and oth­ers — some ap­par­ently yet to be named. Tighter term lim­its can­not stop cor­rup­tion in pol­i­tics, but it can go a long way in short­en­ing the pe­riod a State Se­na­tor or Rep­re­sen­ta­tive is ex­posed to the “op­por­tu­ni­ties” of self-en­rich­ment. The sad part of any re­stric­tion is it af­fects the re­ally, re­ally good elected per­son­nel as well as the morally or eth­i­cally weak.

The sit­u­a­tion of elect­ing the wrong per­son is not unique to Arkansas.

And, the prob­lem may be the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem it­self. Maybe the sys­tem needs to be scru­ti­nized more closely and term lim­its is just a nec­es­sary means of do­ing it.

The man­ner that Arkansas’ State Leg­is­la­ture hid the change in term lim­its to our cur­rent terms, from the pre­vi­ously voter ap­proved lim­its shouts a warn­ing to read the fine print and read the whole bill be­fore you vote. And, more im­por­tantly, know who you are sup­port­ing when you vote for your state of­fi­cials. The de­ci­sion is yours.

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