What about those term limits?
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.