Weekly Opinion Editorial
TERM LIMIT PROPOSALS- ONE GOOD/ONE BAD!
by Steve Fair
Last week, 1,219 bills and 26 joint resolutions were filed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Over in the Senate 815 bills and 34 joint resolutions were filed. Thankfully not all the bills will make it out of committee and get to the floor for a vote. I want to spotlight two of the joint resolutions filed in the House that deal with term limits- one for the legislature and one for county elected officials.
State Representative Paul Wesselhoft, (R-Moore), has filed a joint resolution to ask voters if they want to vote on legislative term limits again. “Each time we term out we lose good people with a great deal of knowledge and leadership,” Wesselhoft said. “This empowers the lobbyist and the directors of agencies, which gives them too much influence over government. This bill will not apply to any of the representatives voting on it. This is for future legislators only.”
State Representative Dennis Johnson, (R-Duncan), has filed a joint resolution that if approved by the voters would limit county elected officials to sixteen years(16) in office- four-4 year terms. “We have term limits for our statewide elected officials and the legislature. I believe it is time to let the people decide if they want to extend that to their county elected officials,” Johnson said.
Here are my thoughts on the two proposals:
First, Wesselhoft is absolutely correct that lobbyists and state agency bureaucrats have too much influence in what goes on at 23rd and Lincoln. He is also correct that term limits allow influence peddlers and special interests to simply ‘wait out’ a legislator who is questioning their budget or policies. But Wesselhoft’s solution to eliminate term limits is not the answer. The long term answer is to elect individuals that are knowledgeable and informed when they arrive. All too often newly elected legislators are green as grass and special interests and influence peddlers are more than happy to ‘educate’ them. That is the basic fundamental problem and Wesselhoft’s solution won’t change that.
It is particularly frustrating when newly elected lawmakers listen to special interest groups more than those that elected them, but it is doubly aggravating when it is a veteran legislator. In recent sessions, veteran Republican legislators have proposed bills that conflict with the Oklahoma Republican Party platform. When confronted about the inconsistency, they either pled ignorance or said the platform was wrong on that issue and they were right. In 2014, National Popular Vote and Common Core were the most glaring reminders that state lawmakers had no idea- or didn’t care- what their constituents thought about an issue. Instead of listening to lobbyists and special interests, legislators should be talking to those in their district about the issues. Eliminating term limits won’t fix that problem.
Second, term limits have been good for Oklahoma. During the 100 year ‘reign of terror’ by the Democrat Party in Oklahoma, legislators served for decades. The result was a corrupt, good ole boy system of government that created a business environment that hurt growth and recruitment. After term limits and ultimately Republican control, substantive issues like tort reform, workers comp reform, infrastructure, and pension reform have been addressed. Oklahoma’s state legislature has accomplished more in the past 14 years than the first 100 years and that is partially due to term limits.
Representative Johnson’s proposal would simply send to a vote of the people a question on whether they want to extend term limits to county elected officials. Term limits allows for turnover in elective office. That is a good thing. Those offices belong to the people, not to the office holder.
The arrogance of someone believing they are indispensable and term limits shouldn’t be imposed on them slays me. No one is indispensable or so important they can’t be replaced. Let someone else function in that position. When we-the Republicans- were pushing for legislative term limits back in the 1980s, Democrats moaned and said passing term limits would cause the legislature to suffer from a lack of ‘institutional knowledge.’ That lack of ‘institutional knowledge’ has been good for Oklahoma. So will Johnson’s proposal for Oklahoma county government. Contact your local state legislator and encourage them to support Johnson’s House Joint Resolution on term limits.