Yesterday WisOpinion linked to a letter in the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune by Jeff Tyberg about term limits for Wisconsin legislators. The letter reluctantly proposed allowing longer terms for the Assembly and Senate (extending Assembly terms to four years and Senate terms to six) if total terms of office were capped at a single term. This is a terrible idea — for democracy and good government.
First, term limits already exist, as the author noted. After two and four years, members of the Assembly and Senate must win an election if they wish to return to their seat. If a constituent approves of the work their representative has done, the constituent most likely wants that representative to return to office. If the constituent disapproves, they will vote for someone else.
Second, unless Assembly elections were to be staggered (which would violate either the authors theory of a four year maximum term or create chaos when determining who gets serve a couple extra years without facing election), Wisconsin would have a brand new Assembly every four years. That is ninety-nine people in charge of drafting the budget and laws of the state who have zero experience doing so.
I understand Tyberg’s misgivings about lifelong politicians. His state and federal representatives have each been in office 40 years. But in the fall of every even-numbered year the people of these districts mark ballots in favor of their continued representation. Who is the government (don’t forget, term-limits would ultimately be imposed by the government) to decree a candidate (meeting age [another story] and residency requirements) invalid?
Tyberg himself has been a candidate for both the Assembly and Congress. Candidates have ran on platforms of term-limits before, and when that term was up, recanted their earlier declaration (I’m thinking specifically of Gil Gutknecht). Is it because once they became legislators, they realized the value a senior legislator provides their district? Possibly. Or maybe Tyberg is right and they are just corrupted by lobbyists. But lobbyists don’t vote, constituents do.
I’m not saying the system is perfect. Power comes from money and lobbyists have the money. I’ve written on the value of incumbency in an election, and it might not be fair.
I’ve got a lot more on this, but I just got word my laptop is up and running again so I’m going to get it. Regular updates return tonight!