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Monday, July 25, 2016

Term limits a bad idea

Posted Wednesday, August 8, 2012, at 7:32 PM

Term limits sound better as a concept than they work in the complex realm of government. Disliking the idea of politicians' staying in office for life, Missourians enacted limits in 1992, restricting state representatives and senators to eight years, or four two-year terms for reps and two four-year stints for senators. Some states resist term limits because they would give more power to the big cities, where the competition is tougher and officials have a harder time getting re-elected anyway. You see even the chairmen of important committees and House speakers being defeated in metro settings while rural areas keep re-electing leaders who accrue more and more influence, sometimes establishing a legislative giant in a small town. Presidents should be limited because they can get too strong like Franklin D. Roosevelt did between 1933 and 1945; but taking state leaders out of office so soon keeps them from accomplishing more and makes their districts vulnerable to urban concerns.

As detailed in a recent statewide report, Missouri's term limits have been having another untoward effect by further empowering lobbyists paid to influence legislation for special interests like corporations and professional groups. It's about "institutional knowledge," or the close familiarity with how Jefferson City and the General Assembly work. It takes years to develop that knowledge and few of the Capitol's ever-changing cast of elected leaders can match the much more stable ranks of the lobbyists, who are called that because they often approach lawmakers in the hallways, or lobbies, outside legislative chambers.

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James R. Campbell
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