Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Term Limits: Leave Them Alone

Last week saw a Grand Rapids Press article on legislators debating the extenion of the current state term limits. Members of the state House are limited to three terms of two years and members of the state Senate are limited to two four year terms. A proposal, which may appear on the ballot in January for the newly-moved primary, would extend those term limits to 12 years for Representatives, but not effect the limits on Senators.

Some folks have even blamed the "inexperience" of legislators, due to terms limits, on the current budget morass. They say that lobbyists are running Lansing and that our legislators somehow don't know what they're doing.

Don't buy it. A study by the Cato institute has shown that there are numerous benefits to term limits:

  • Term limits remain popular with state electorates long after their introduction.

  • Term limits stimulate electoral competition in state legislative elections.
  • Term limits enable nontraditional candidates to run for seats in state legislatures. Female, Hispanic-American, and Asian-American candidates find it easier to enter term-limited legislatures than non-term-limited bodies. The record is more mixed for African Americans.

  • Term limits weaken seniority systems in state legislatures.

  • Term limits tend to weaken the leadership of a state legislature.

  • Term limits have not strengthened interest groups, state bureaucracies, or legislative staffs as predicted by critics of term limits.

  • Some evidence suggests that term limits foster public policies compatible with limited government.

There's even evidence that term limits lead to lower taxes in the long run. In other words, term limits foster a citizen-run government, not a government run by the political class. We need to protect that at all cost. The so-called arguments against term limits don't hold water.

The current budget problem is a sign of the health of term limits and a citizen legislature. The very fact that the legislature and governor are fighting so long over the issue is good for the state. It forces a very sincere debate on some very important issues. Instead of focusing on quick fixes and budgetary gimmicks, they are finally looking at real, long-term, systemic changes to make sure that our state operates effectively and efficiently in the future.

Long live term limits!


  1. I'll take MIT over the Cato institute any day:

    Incumbency rates have far more to do with gerrymandering and our money-driven political process then with term limits. Our current legislature is a perfect example of everything that myopic Cato institute study ignores, like the loss of experience when you force out senior elected officials who could prevent the sort of ham-handed politicking that is going on with respect to the budget situation right now.

    All term limits do is change who legislators try to pander to while they're in office. With term limits in place, rather than pandering to the special interests that fund election campaigns locally - they begin looking to pander to bigger fish which requires more time and giving the citizens they're supposed to represent even shorter shrift.

    There's absolutely nothing in that Cato study that supports the contention that term limits help minorities enter office. Really the only bullet point that is supported by the study is the last one - which is the reason libertarians support term limits; they want the state legislature to be gutted of populist influence and to become essentially become an anti-tax arm of the chamber of commerce.

  2. Did you read the study you linked to?

    Here's the last line of the Abstract:

    "This finding reveals that
    the incumbency advantage is not unique to legislatures and that theories of incumbency
    advantages based on redistricting, legislative irresponsibility, pork barrel politics, and other
    features of legislatures do not explain the incumbency advantage."

    So, your first sentence is incorrect.

    Our argument is that the current gridlock in Lansing is a good thing. The study you cite does nothing to argue against that. It just talks about why there is an incumbancy advantage, and it basically concludes that it is not due to the things you say - gerrymandering or money. Besides, how could you argue that incumbancy isn't effected by term limits? Term limits dramatically reduce incumbancy rates. Are you saying that gerrymandering has a higher effect on incumbancy rates than term limits? That doesn't make any sense.

    In fact, as campaign finance laws have gotten more strict, the incumbant's advantage, at least at the national level, has gotten even stronger. This is probably due to the fact that campaign finance laws have the exact effect that legislators want - they make it harder for a non-incumbant the raise the necessary money to compete. The politicians make the rules for their own elections. One can hardly expect those rules to favor non-incumbants.

    But anyways, the point of the original post was to argue that term limits are good because turnover and gridlock are good. That argument stands.