Term limits gaining ground

It’s nice to have your dreams come true. That’s the enjoyable sensation George Blumel had in 2002 when term limits became law for the Palm Beach County Commission. George was the chief engineer of that victory. George’s son, Phil Blumel, is President of U.S. Term Limits, the national effort to introduce term limits across America. Both are encouraged by the recent decision by West Palm Beach to put term limits on the ballot for their city commissioners.

George said, “We do (term limits) because we see no other reform that accomplishes so much and doesn’t cost taxpayers a cent. Entrenched politicians who make a career out of the job that is supposed to be public service make decisions more often than not based on how it affects their careers rather than public service mandates.” Phil, whose latest term limits accomplishment is in Sarasota, is a long-time limits warrior, who “worked on campaigns all over the country on summer breaks from college.”

West Palm Beach voters will be able to decide if they want to limit their commissioners to nine consecutive years in office.

Sometimes voters are smart and sometimes they’re not. But give them a chance to vote for term limits, and they almost always do it, because voters instinctively understand it will probably be good for government. They believe in the danger of officials hanging around too long in office, as did Thomas Jefferson, who declared government should “set an obligation on the holder of the office to go out after a certain period.”

We’ve heard all the arguments about how “term limits doesn’t allow us to keep a good elected official when we should”, and “term limits means staff or lobbyists will run government,” and “we lose institutional memory.”

Maybe. But someone needs to do a study about whether governmental bodies deviate from the will of the people in direct proportion to the longevity of their members. In the tenured institution of Congress, we see approval ratings at the lowest level in decades, down in the low teens with one poll at single digits. I submit this is because the people are sick of such practices as congressional support for self-interest “turkeys,” and “earmarks” that benefit family, political friends, and staff members.

Too few of the cities in Florida have term limits. Palm Beach County has municipal elected officials who have inhabited the same office for 35-40 years. Not all long-timers are a problem of course, but the case is strong that it’s time for most of them to leave. The longer most politicians stay in office, the more they protect themselves and government staff, and the more they are tempted to regulate and spend. Tenure in office means politicians get imbedded to the point they believe they own the office. Too many become tempted to use their power to buy votes for their next election.

This issue isn’t about whether you “like” or “dislike” politicians in office. It’s quite possible to distrust the institution and the power-thirst of the system, while really liking government officials as people. It is the power of office and the forbidden fruits of the system which tempt politicians to strive to keep hegemony at all costs.

Most cities need limits on their municipal elected officials. Eight years on the same dais is enough. We need to put the days of election longevity behind us– the days of the career politician. Government becomes a better place when an official doesn’t “own” an office. Politicians are like baby diapers; they need to be changed regularly.


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John R. Smith


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