Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.
That appears to be the case when it comes to term limits in the Missouri General Assembly.
In 1992, the voters of Missouri — along with voters in 10 other states — overwhelmingly decided to limit the number of terms a state representative can serve to four (eight years) and a state senator to two four-year terms. A similar vote to limit congressional terms was ruled unconstitutional.
The idea was that legislators became more interested in re-election than legislating. Another concern was that longtime incumbents — entrenched career politicians — were often difficult to unseat.
At the time, opponents cried out that term limits would also limit the power of the legislature, leaving too much power with the executive branch, unelected bureaucrats and lobbyists. Their concerns have turned out to be legitimate.
At least, that is what Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has said. Jones has named a committee to find ways to “strengthen the institution’s effectiveness.” One way is to tweak term limits to allow legislators to stay in office twice as long.
Jones and other legislators — both Republican and Democrat — have pointed to problems with the shorter terms. Legislators are just learning how to be effective when their time is up.
Committee chairs and other important positions that were previously reserved for powerful, long-term members are now being sought by freshman lawmakers with little institutional knowledge or ability to lead their committees or party members. And those inexperienced lawmakers begin to depend more on bureaucrats and lobbyists for guidance.
After the full impact of term limits went into effect in 2002, we began to see the negative results. The General Assembly can get little done. Funding of capital needs has plummeted, leaving the state in trouble today. Important economic, job-producing legislation is stalled by legislators with ideological, single-issue focus who refuse to bend during their brief time in office.
The concern about the impact of term limits is a rare bipartisan topic in the General Assembly. Both sides want to see term limits — seen by some as a disaster for the state — to be changed or repealed (as they have in six states).
So do we. We have editorialized against term limits for the past two decades and we continue to take that stand.
The only term limit voters need is their power at the ballot box.
Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.