Some change for the better

Tuesday, January 13, 2009 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:32 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

The question “what change would you like to see in 2009?” opens a lot of doors for consideration. And, inasmuch as change for change itself may be worse than the previously imagined problem, it is often wise to proceed with caution.

A prime example of such an issue appears to be the controversy over teaching “reformed math,” a program of investigations in numbers, data and space in the public schools.  Many parents have voiced concerns that  traditional,  proven techniques of learning the basics first have been replaced by abstract conceptual notions not readily understood by those paying the bills.

Admittedly, I am no mathematical wizard. However, having succeeded in mastering arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry, I understand the prevailing idea that, just possibly, reformed math is a “smoke and mirrors” exercise with little redeeming value. You may pardon my ignorance, but unless someone can convince me that this “Investigation” concept means that two plus two can be other than four, that five times five is no longer 25, or that the formula for determining the area of a circle is not pi R squared, I am really not favorably impressed.

At the very top of my particular hope-for-change pyramid is one that must be accomplished at the state level through the process of legislation; nevertheless, it can be influenced at the local, grass-roots level.  I want an easily understood, no loopholes ordinance prohibiting the use of a hand-held cell phone or other communications device while the user is operating a moving motor vehicle.

I have heard all the opposing arguments against, from Libertarians railing against government intrusion, to the American Civil Liberties Union fans, to the “it's no more disconcerting than tuning the radio or turning on windshield wipers” to those poor souls to whom their trusty cell phone acts as a security blanket.  The caterwauling opposition to this common-sense proposal for legislation should be summarily ignored as this is an issue that affects public safety.

As an example, I find driving across supermarket and mall parking lots and on our roads and highways nearly as frightening as negotiating a minefield.  Those who would deny that their reckless incursions are hazardous to others obviously have never bothered to stop talking long enough to observe those of us who are driving defensively, ready to brake or swerve at a moment’s notice in order that we both live to drive another day.

You may quote me all the statistics you wish and cloak yourself with a constitutional right to engage in foolish behavior, but a driver with one hand on the wheel and another holding a cell phone to his or her ear is neither alert nor in control. The accident you cause may cost me my life.

Next on my wish for change list is an issue that could and should begin with a movement here in Columbia — that of repealing term limits.  The limiting of terms for Missouri legislators to eight years in each chamber was a particularly noxious bill of goods sold to the voters in 1992 — a primary example of the adage, “act in haste, repent at leisure."

There are good and bad legislators, that is a given.  Nevertheless, ending their term of office is the responsibility of the voters — a body politic that includes all who are eligible voters.  Ceding the responsibility to determine the length of service of our representatives to the legislature, the courts or to an arbitrary  selection by special interests is an abdication of our obligation as citizens.

Admittedly, term limits do weed out marginal or ineffective representatives; conversely, they also serve to rob us of experienced and knowledgeable public servants who are the most qualified to prepare legislation and lead committees.  As a result, the corporate memory and expertise in the legislature rests with the staff members and lobbyists rather than the officials we elect as representatives.

In the final analysis, limiting the terms of elected representatives is the responsibility of the electorate on an election-by-election basis.  If we, as the voting public, are incapable of deciding who is to stay and who is to go, we forfeit our obligation as citizens.  Term limits were sold to the public as the wrong solution — it is time to correct that error.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at


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Albert Wallach January 31, 2009 | 4:20 p.m.

My Dad was a lobbyist for the small loan industry while I was at school on the GI Bill. He had physical problems and occasionally would call me over to Jeff City to help "entertain" at the rathskeller of the Governor Hotel while he repaired to his room. The old "Bulls" of the legislature would sometimes be in attendance. I should have majored in Political Science as I got a real education from these very senior long-serving servants of the public. We threw the baby out with the bath-water when we established term limits. I also would like to see it changed.

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