Thursday, October 15, 2009

How Republicans Tried to Limit Long Serving Democrats

Thad Kousser. Term Limits and the Dismantling of State Legislative Professionalism. New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

As professionalism increased in state legislatures, as the positions paid decent salaries and had full time duties, incumbent legislators tended to work harder to retain their positions. This led to a higher reelection rate. In turn, supporters of the concept that state legislators should be citizens with non-political jobs rather than professional politicians started pushing to place term limits on state legislators. It was their goal that professional legislators could not be firmly established.

The author debunks some of the arguments for legislative term limits. Supporters of term limits state that term limits reduce political considerations as legislators lave less concern about reelection. A majority of term limited legislators run for other offices, so their thoughts remain towards their political careers. As much as 69% of term limited legislators in California ran for other positions.

Surveys of legislative occupations do not indicate a rise of “citizen” legislators following term limits. Ironically, the number of people listing their full time occupation as “legislator” increased with term limits. What is notable is there were more attorneys as legislators before term limits and more business people as legislators with term limits.

Even an early pro-term limit leader, Pete Schaborum has stated that “what I was hoping was that we would have 120 legislators who were actually private citizens willing to give a piece of their lives to public service. None of that is happening. It’s become a partisan cesspool.

By 2003, term limits existed in 21 states. Two states, Idaho and Utah, then repealed term limits and courts struck down state limits in four other states. Courts in Massachusetts, Washington, and Wyoming discarded term limits for legal technical reasons. The courts in Oregon decided that term limits were not proper.

The movement for term limits began as local efforts and over time spread into a national movement. The Utah legislature adopted 12 consecutive year term limits in 1994, yet did so under pressure that stronger term limits be enacted by voter initiative. As noted previously, Utah has since removed term limits.

The Louisiana legislature and voters then approved a state constitutional amendment creating term limits in 1995.

Term limits also limit the time that people may serve in legislative leadership positions. It is noted that internal politicking for these positions dramatically increases in states with legislative term limits.

Institutional knowledge is lost by having legislators serving for fewer years. This can lead to making legislative staff having greater influence as it often is the staff that has the institutional knowledge. It can also make lobbyists more influential as they become more influential as a source of institutional knowledge. A problem arises as the institutional knowledge of lobbyists is generally biased towards desired by the lobbyists. Further, this makes the administrative branch executives more influential as the holders of more institutional knowledge. In the New Mexico legislature, the administration supplies legislators will bill analyses. Term limits shifts knowledge, influence, and power from legislative leaders and committee officers towards administrators and lobbyists.

A study of the Maine legislature concluded that term limits increased the number of bills introduced into the Maine legislature but that comparable numbers of bills passed before and after term limits.

The author finds that term limits has brought “marginal increases” in the numbers of females and Latinos serving as legislators. Full time legislatures display more party loyalty and adhesion of legislative leaders. Term limits has been found to produce more legislation in some more controversial areas such as health care and public welfare as term limited legislators seem more apt to vote for controversial proposals as they approach their term limits.


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