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OP-ED: The End of the Endless - Fresh Faces, Term Limits Could Help Legislature

by | Mar 7, 2010 6:02am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Opinion

This week it was revealed that in the face of a disastrous budget crisis, House Speaker Christopher Donovan of Meriden’s solution is to turn his frown upside-down and doggedly commit himself to the idea that if he ignores the problem, it will go away. He is hardly alone.

Even Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who has at least been responsible in talking about the state’s budget problems, was instead shown to have been championing ideas that her own administration knew to be fatally flawed before she did so.

In the face of such delusions, it has become increasingly clear that the problem with our politics is our politicians. Their incompetence and unwillingness to confront hard issues should serve as the ample justification necessary to change the rules so that the political process can be opened up to new people and screen out the same old crowd.

Perhaps the most potent criticism of such politicians came from former U.S. Sen. George McGovern, himself a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Congress. On Sept. 21, 1992, after a failed attempt to own and operate an Inn in Stratford, he wrote in Nation’s Restaurant News that: “I … wish that during the years I was in public office I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender.”

The act of limiting such elected officials through term limitations is an idea that has been around since the nation’s founding.  The idea’s most recent high-water mark was in 1994, when it was included in the now infamous Contract with America under the title “The Citizen Legislature Act”.

Here in Connecticut, 80 of the state’s 187 legislators have been in their current offices for a decade or more, and 12 have been in their current posts for more than 20 years.  Limiting legislative service to five terms in each body (or even four terms in each body, if one were inclined to save money on legislative pensions), would be a logical step toward opening the political process to more citizens.

The benefits of such a law are that it would create more open seat contests in legislative races, give new people the opportunity to serve in state government, and force legislators to go back out into the private sector after successfully completing their public service.

The most frequently noted rebuttal to term limits proposals is that they artificially deprive legislatures of experienced leaders.  But in Connecticut, where the average length of service for sitting legislators is nine years, the fear that term limits would decapitate the General Assembly’s leadership is unfounded.

But in this environment when so many of our leaders seem so poorly suited to so large a task, some new faces and fresh energy would be welcome.   

Heath W. Fahle is a policy analyst and consultant based in Manchester.  His background in political campaigns includes work for former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and the Connecticut Republican Party. He is also the principal of Revolutionary Strategies LLC, a Web site design and consulting firm. Learn more at www.heathwfahle.com

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(15) Archived Comments

posted by: res ipsa | March 7, 2010  1:13pm

This is Exhibit A for the Ct. General Assembly enacting ballot initiative. The pols won’t impose term limits on themselves, therefore the people have to have a MECHANISM to get it done, thus initiative anmd referendum. It’s been ignored by the Legislature for years even tho the public is overwhelmingly in favor. Support candidates who will work for ballot initiative.

posted by: mosley | March 7, 2010  2:24pm

I agree res ipsa. Our annointed legislators will never vote for term limits and take away their “gravy train”. Hell will freeze over first. I can’t wait to see where all of these canidates stand on ballot initiative.

It will be a breath of fresh air for Ct.

posted by: CT Jim | March 7, 2010  2:51pm

The only way you get ballot inititives is thru a Constitutional Convention.
That Vote will come up next in 2028

posted by: mosley | March 7, 2010  4:09pm

Ct. Jim, you’re all wet! The Legislature can pass legislation at any time and create ballot initiative rights. They won’t do that because they are afraid that the voters will take away some of their powers through initiatives. The 20 year vote is only for convening a constitutional Convention. It has nothing to do with initiative-referendum. Why you are opposed to the citizens having this right makes no sense unless you are a member of the political class, a lobbyist, or someone with a special interest that you’re protecting or advocating. What do you have against a 3 strikes law, term limits, medical marijuana, decriminalization of marijuana, eminent domain, recall of elected officials, such as Mayor Perez, tax initiatives to CONTROL our out of sight state spending, etc.

Seems to me that Ct. Jim is a defender of the staus quo and an apologist for what’s wrong with our state, which is nearly everything.

posted by: CT Jim | March 7, 2010  5:13pm

Hey Mosely,
A little wet huh?
I think not, when the vote yes coalition was touting the use of a constitutional convention they claimed that this was the opportunity to get ballot initiatives.
And they were partially right.
In order to get ballot initiatives you would need to CHANGE the CT State Constitution. the easiest way to do that would be in a constitutiional convention.
Other wise you would need either a 2/3rds or 3/5ths vote in both the house and the senate and then have it voted on in the next November election.
I personally would like to see a constitutional amendment requiring everyone in the state to have health insurance as I am sure you are right?
If you don’t like the status quo stop putting up such horrible candidates.
Do you really think that the public wants a bunch of candidates that believe Social Security is a ponzi Scheme and Medicare is unconstitutional? Really?
You guys had your bite of the apple in 2008 and lost. Besides in a time when teachers are getting laid off and boards of education have to cut back on school lunches do we really need to go to legislation by referendum??
Each referendum vote in California costs that state $90 million dollars. If it only cost us lets say $5million LOL isn’t that a colossal waste of money???

posted by: mosley | March 7, 2010  8:09pm

Ct. Jim, it’s too bad you ignore the thrust of my post which is the Ct. Legislature can enact ballot initiative. Your awkward attempt to confuse the issue is regrettable and intellectually dishonest. You are also way out in left field when you accuse me of “already had a bite of the apple”. Nothing can be further from the truth.

The point I have made which you ignore and refuse to address is that the Legislature has been brain dead on I&R and will not do anything to diminish or lessen their power. The other part of that is they ignore the public and their embrace of “having a voice”.

Ct. Jim, you and the other career pols have a wakeup call coming in November.

posted by: lothar | March 7, 2010  10:36pm

Well the only thing Jim is really wrong about here is the assumption that you took part in the 2008 effort to force CT to use ballot initiatives.

Whether you did or didn’t, that was your best chance to get it through. Now you face an 18 year wait to get another good shot at it. Otherwise the other method, outside of a Constitutional Convention, is an uphill, multi-year process that is simply not likely to come to fruition for any reason - even if the tea party found a way to win 3 or 4 seats. And the odds are really long on that first step as well.

Your best bet is to try to get some legislation passed that directly addresses issues that won’t require a Constitutional amendment.

posted by: CT Jim | March 7, 2010  10:58pm

Well Mosley,
Lothar is right I assumed that you were on the vote yes side in 2008 but your last post has now convinced me that you are a tea party member.
But Lothar is also right that your chances of getting ballot initiatives over the next 18 years are right around to slim and none.
And as for November, well just let me say this ....good luck running as the people who helped kill health care reform and who also profess that medicare is unconstitutional and Social Security is a ponzi scheme.
For some reason you guys confused 15 minutes of fame with some sort of movement.

posted by: res ipsa | March 8, 2010  10:44am

Lothar, Don’t you recognize a power struggle when it’s right under your nose? 80 legislators have been in office for more than 10 years-doesn’t that offend you-pensions, free healthcare, travel. No wonder John Larson takes his free Ct. healthcare over the federal plan. You and Ct. Jim don’t get it. Our closed political system breeds exclusivity at the expense of the public. Ballot initiative rights would create some “balance” in this ridiculously lopsided govt. that we have here in Corrupticut. This oped was very well-done and is a wakeup call for Ct. voters to change Ct. Jim’s beloved oligarchy.

posted by: Polite | March 8, 2010  11:24am

I would recommend that everyone that is interested in this discussion go to http://www.LetOurVoicesBeHeard.Org. This organization will be holding our State legislators accountable on their position on such an initiative during this election year.

posted by: CT Jim | March 9, 2010  7:10am

Most people aren’t interested in this or rule by referendum which is why this is a dead issue. strange but the fringe right seems to act like paranas whenever they smell blood the just want to devour the meat.
In the last week alone I have heard three non-starters, this,referendums and right to work for nothing legislation.
If it wasn’t so scary it would be funny.
But all 3 are DOA.

posted by: res ipsa | March 9, 2010  10:58am

The antiquated Sunday ban on alcohol sales is a great example of how ballot initiative can overide an entrenched Legislature controlled by lobbyists and special interests. What say you, Ct. Jim. Is that too “right wing” for you?

posted by: CT Jim | March 9, 2010  12:16pm

Does it need to done by referendum?
Can you not debate it in lets say a public hearing?
I have heard both sides of this argument and they are both compelling.Although I side with the little guy.
If one were to allow Sunday sales then the argument against was and is that with Mass. is now taxing liquor with a 6.25% sales tax people would buy here anyway. But why not buy it on Saturday? Why do you have to open on Sunday?
Most Package stores are small Mom and Pop operations where the owners work between 12 and 15 hours a day six days a week. To force them to be open on Sunday they will have to pay to heat or cool the building and then pay people to work that day. All this will do is drive the cost up because the stores would have to factor in the costs of opening on Sunday. Not to mention the local bars and restaurants that rely on customers who want a cold beer to come into their establishments. If a six pack of beer costs $6 in a package store the state makes .36 in sales tax if those same 6 beers were bought at your local tavern at $3.50 per beer the tax revenue would be $2.26. So wheres the added revenue???
And if this were done by referendum who do you think would have more ads on the radio and TV? Would it be the Mom and Pop stores striving to make a living or would it be the Big liqour sellers like Hueblien??? Care to guess?

posted by: mosley | March 9, 2010  7:15pm

res ipsa-you are right on the money with the Sunday booze law being ripe for ballot initiative here in Ct. My favorite, still is term limits, where it is so desparately needed.

posted by: CTPati | March 10, 2010  1:27am

Excellent opinion piece!

And any who think that the TEA PARTY movement does not have real *power* are as deluded as princess Pelosi!

Just wait until November, if you think that VA, NJ, and the recent stunning election of Scott Brown in MA were just flukes!

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