Monday, March 10, 2014


Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair
Two weeks ago a proposal to limit county elected officials in Oklahoma to four terms (16 years) failed to get a vote in the House Rules committee.  I asked Representative Dennis Johnson, (R-Duncan) to carry the bill as a ‘constituent bill.’  It was ran it as a statute bill- I preferred a Joint Resolution (JR).  The difference is that JR, if passed by both chambers, would have placed the issue on the ballot and allowed Oklahoma voters to decide if they want to term limit county elected officials.
The outrage from county elected officials across the state when the bill was introduced was unbelievable.  They put pressure on the Rules committee members to kill the bill in committee.  When the Rules Chair (Todd Russ) asked for a motion on the bill, all the members of the committee sat silently.  The room was full of county elected officials who opposed the bill and if the bill had passed would have been forced to eventually leave government.    There were few, if any, private citizens in the room.  The only people lobbying their legislators were folks drawing a taxpayer funded check.  I have several thoughts about this issue:
First, term limits have been good for Oklahoma.  Since legislative term limits have been enacted in Oklahoma, we have had better government.   It has allowed for better ideas and a more transparent government.  Legislators know they have only twelve (12) years max to accomplish something and they hit the ground running.  When term limits were first proposed critics said Oklahoma would suffer from a ‘loss of institutional knowledge.’  Legislative term limits hasn’t hurt our state one iota.  In fact, you could make the case that Oklahoma has more effective, efficient government because of term limits.  The ‘rotation’ of legislators and elected officials has given lawmakers fresh ideas and a ‘sense of urgency’ not present before. Just four years ago, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved term limits for statewide elected officials as well.  Statewide elected officials can now only serve eight (8) years- two terms.  The only level of government where Oklahoma doesn’t have term limits is at the county level. 
Second, because county government is more local than any other government, officials should be allowed to serve sixteen (16) years.  That is twice as long as statewides and four years longer than legislators.   That is also sufficient time for any elected official to accomplish what they want to do in office.  After the 16 years, they can get a private sector job like the rest of us.
Third, there are more than enough qualified people across Oklahoma to fill these offices.  One of the arguments by the Oklahoma Association of County Commissioners is that term limits would result in ‘unqualified’ people filling those offices.   The arrogance of believing that current county elected officials are irreplaceable is ridiculous.  That type of mindset is exactly how we get poor government.  As Senator Coburn has said, “no one is indispensable in government.”  Those claiming to be irreplaceable are exactly the ones that should be replaced. 
Gayle Ward, Executive Director of the Association of County Commissioners, said, “County government provides many jobs and services that keep local business open and communities thriving.”  What?  Government at any level doesn’t provide jobs- the private sector provides jobs.  Government consumes- the private sector produces.  Ward went on to say, “To upset the well working system by taking the right away from local level voters of retaining experienced officials could very well cause economic upset.”  Are you kidding me? County government is NOT an industry.  Term limiting county elected officials will not destroy the local economy.    The sky will not fall if your county commissioner has to find a private sector job after term limits.  The sun will still come up in the east.  Stores will still open and the mail will still run.  The only ‘system’ that will be disrupted if county officials are term limited are career politicians.  A career politician in Washington is no different than a career politician in county government.    We either believe in a ‘system’ of CITIZEN elected officials or CAREER elected officials.  Term limits for county officials in Oklahoma will not destroy the space/time continuum. 
Please contact your Oklahoma state legislator and tell them to vote to let the citizens of Oklahoma decide on whether they want to term limit their county elected officials.  If it gets to the ballot, it will pass 3-1 in favor.  That is exactly why county elected officials are trying to kill it.

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