Monday, August 11, 2014


Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
In 1990, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved term limits for the state legislature.  A person can serve no more than twelve (12) years combined in both chambers.  One of the major arguments the critics of terms limits voiced was that Oklahomans would have poorer state government because of the loss of all the institutional knowledge of the long serving state lawmakers.  They insisted that lobbyists and bureaucrats would run the state if term limits were enacted.  They said the turnover of legislators would be devastating.  Bear in mind, Oklahoma state government was arguably one of the most corrupt in the nation before term limits.  Term limits have been good for Oklahoma.     And it appears the turnover in the legislature is about the same as it was before term limits.
A recent study by the Oklahoma Policy Institute showed the average Oklahoma state legislator now hangs around an average of about seven years, compared to also the same period before term limits.   The OPI concludes term limits have given rise to overly ambitious lawmakers with little experience.  They write: Oklahoma political observers are in near unanimous agreement that term limits have had profound and far-ranging effects on the Oklahoma legislature. In the view of many journalists, legislative and agency staffers, and lobbyists, today’s legislators are significantly less experienced than were their predecessors. Short legislative careers are taken to mean that legislators are less familiar with policy issues, agency operations, public finances, and the legislative process itself.  With less time to rise through the ranks to leadership, term-limited legislators are often seen as more overtly ambitious and more beholden to lobbyists than in pre-term limit days.”   Three observations:
First, the OK Policy Institute (OPI) is a liberal think tank, so consider the source.  Their website claims they are non-partisan and independent, but the fact is six of the nine members of the board of directors are registered Democrats and the Chairman of the Board of OPI is a former staff member for the late Congressman Mike Synar.  Synar was one of the most liberal members of Congress ever elected from Oklahoma.  It’s far from unanimous among Oklahoma political observers that term limits have not worked.  In fact, the conclusion is quite the opposite. You have to understand OPI’s reason for attacking term limits.  In their mind, Democrats lost the state legislature, and ultimately state government, because Oklahomans enacted term limits, but the fact is Democrats lost the hearts and minds of Oklahomans because of their liberal stance on the issues.  Term limits just accelerated the process.
Second, term limits has revealed a gap in Oklahoma government that needs to be plugged.  Currently there is no mechanism for voters to hold a term limited legislator or a statewide elected official accountable.  At a recent event, a Republican legislator was overheard telling people that he didn’t care what they thought about one of his votes because he wasn’t going to be on the ballot again.  That’s a problem.  If an elected official believes they are not going to have to answer to their constituents, they may just stop listening to their constituents.  Without recall citizens just have to ‘wait them out’ and a lot of damage can be done by a lame duck in a four year term.  Recall is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before his or her term has ended. Recalls are initiated when sufficient voters sign a petition.  Many states have recall provisions in their state constitutions.  Oklahoma needs to add it to ours-even more so since we have term limits.
Third, uninformed voters are the problem, not lobbyists.  OPI mistakenly blames lobbyists- who often just represent groups of people- as being a problem.  It is true that some legislators are unduly influenced by lobbyists and special interests.  They are hypnotized by the tickets and tinker toys they give them, but that’s not the fundamental problem.  The problem is voters who elect clueless candidates that know nothing about the issues once they are elected.  Lobbyists and special interests are more than happy to educate them and that is how we get bad government.   Voters must vet the candidates and cast their vote based on issues and not on the color of yard signs or some clever mailer.  Georgia Williams, a long time Comanche County political activist, says “Voters need to know where our candidates stand on issues relevant to the growth and productivity of our state and getting government off the backs of the citizenry! Voters have a responsibility to know who and what they are voting on.”

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