Of all the ideas floating around this county, the lowest-common-denominator proposal of term limits for office holders earns the title of “Least likely to be endorsed by someone with higher brain function.”
The idea behind the move, as espoused by perennial wannabe gadfly Robin Ficker is that we must guarantee our county representatives are more responsible to the electorate and we must keep them from becoming minor despots sitting perpetually on the local throne and availing themselves of county money much like pigs will avail themselves of truffles.
The sentiment has merit, but the idea does not.
Term limits are in place in many jurisdictions throughout the country and I have seen no conclusive study which determines they’ve done anything worthwhile where they’ve been installed. Certainly Prince George’s County, where there are term limits, is no better and one could persuasively argue is far worse than government in Montgomery County where there are no term limits.
Dissecting Ficker’s proposal, a majority of seats on the nine-member Montgomery County Council would open in 2018 if the proposed charter amendment is on the ballot and is approved by voters.
The measure has failed twice before, but Ficker is determined to beat you over the head with a bad idea until you beg for mercy and/or give in to his will.
Logically the idea of term limits runs afoul of the stated intentions of the proposal.
Term limits do not insure better government – it creates a less responsive government and deters voters from participating in government rather than energizing them.
While it may guarantee office-holders do not squat in their offices for an inordinate amount of time it does nothing to guarantee unelected staff members are also limited in their time in office. Without such guarantees then these unelected staff members become the defacto representatives and subvert the democratic process.
More to the point, term limits are already written into our Republic.
Every two, four or six years we hold these unique rituals that guarantee no one is allowed to sit in an office representing us if we don’t want them there. These little rituals are known as elections.
The problem isn’t we don’t limit our representatives. Apparently we’re happy with their representation at the time of election and keep voting them back in office.
The speculation is we are doing this because of decreased voter turnout and voter apathy. Thus an energized minority can guarantee re-election especially if a majority of voters stay at home.
So to combat this situation Ficker wants to artificially limit office-holders to three terms.
This takes responsibility away from the voters and as a byproduct the move encourages further voter apathy.
Why vote at all if the representatives are limited to two terms or three? Sit on the wayside and watch the wheels go round and round.
This too is anathema to the Republic.
We should encourage greater voter involvement. We should be preaching the virtues of our process, not limiting it. Suppose we have a representative we actually like and believe to be worthy of more than two or three terms in office? Do we throw out the baby with the bathwater?
Argue all you may about term limits – some office holders deserve more than one, two or three terms in office. If we, the voters, determine that to be the case then our will should be done.
There is a more insidious problem brought about by term limits. Since, logically, it promotes apathy and less involvement in our government, it makes government less accessible and helps to promote an environment where government is our enemy.
We the people!
Term limits contribute to an “us versus them” dynamic which isn’t conducive to a participatory Republic. More than any time in our history we are in great need of well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking.
The idea of term limits is a thinly veiled example of “We can’t trust ourselves,” and therefore we need someone to make a decision for us.
Instead of preaching term limits, those disgruntled with the system should become more involved in the process. For all of Ficker’s faults and extreme lapses in logic, the man has run for office many times. That should be his legacy – stand up and run for office.
Term limits, every place I’ve ever seen them have been proposed and forced down the voters throats by those who are trying to gain by legislation what they could not gain at the ballot box – and that is why it must and should fail.