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September 1, 2014

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j. patrick coolican:

The misguided logic — and cruel irony — of term limits in Nevada

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J. Patrick Coolican

CARSON CITY -- The Nevada Legislature already has a stiff wind in its face when it comes to solving our longstanding problems. They are basically volunteers. They meet for just 120 days every other year. They convene as far as 450 miles from home and constituents.

And now add another: The imposition of term limits, a constitutional amendment that went into effect last year and is quickly showing itself to be bad policy.

The origins of term limits came from a goal that was lofty but ultimately misguided, and another that was cynically partisan.

Let's start with the cynically partisan, because that's so often what drives issues. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the re-election rate in Congress approached body temperature levels, and the Democrats' decades-long grip on the House of Representatives seemed interminable. So Republicans discovered a new favorite issue: Term limits. Its advocates argued that the electoral advantage of incumbency was so vast, and its effect on governance so perverse, that we needed to disenfranchise ourselves -- take the bottle out of our hands before we could drink of the poison.

Well, lo and behold, 1994 came along and swept Republicans into power, led by a lovably ambitious loudmouth named Newt Gingrich. Term limits were part of the Republicans' "Contract for America" that year, but -- shocker! -- once in power, that was mostly the end of term limits talk.

Unfortunately, out in the hinterlands, we didn't get the memo that term limits were no longer needed because Republicans had won.

Term limits became constitutional law in Nevada after passing in 1994 and 1996. (In-between, in an act of brazenly self interested judicial activism, the Supreme Court split the amendment into two -- A)elected officeholders; B)judges. Part A passed, Part B failed, so we don't have term-limited judges. (Judges shouldn't be elected anyway -- a topic for another elitist column.)

Now, on to the the lofty but misguided motivation for term limits: They were supposed to eliminate the dreaded "career politician" and return us to the days of citizen legislators. The problem is that the work is quite complicated, requiring knowledge of policy, process, players. Would you prefer a "citizen doctor" or a "career doctor"?

That brings us to the present. Term limits have ushered in a big crop of freshman who are having to get up to speed while we solve a budget crisis. More important, say many legislators and lobbyists, we've already lost significant leadership experience and will lose more of it every session.

Closing deals and shutting down the session is its own art form, and the number of people with the experience and skills to do it is quickly dwindling to zero. Moreover, leaders need leverage. If they're in their final term, there's very little they can do for -- or to -- other legislators, which can make them powerless. This could explain how the Assembly Democratic caucus briefly melted down last week. Speaker John Oceguera is on his way out the door.

This calls to mind another problem -- legislators are always on the hunt for the next office. Both Oceguera and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford are thought to have congressional ambitions. Witness term limits in California, where elected officials move from the legislature to city council to school board.

In other words, term limits, which were intended to reduce politicization, have done the opposite.

Instead of former legislators such as Bill Raggio or Barbara Buckley, who were in safe seats and loved legislating and so could be counted on to bring their wealth of experience to Carson City every two years, now, "It seems everybody is worried about their next election," an experienced lobbyist told me.

Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely any elected official or special interest would make the push to undo term limits because it would be seen as politically risky to reverse law the voters approved.

So we're stuck with term limits, like a smoker's cough.

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  1. Term limits were a talk radio gimmick, like most talk radio crap, it is ill-conceived and based on moronic principals.

    At least Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have seen their ratings drop 30%. People are realizing they are stupid people with stupid ideas.

  2. Joe: the Supreme Court leveled the playing field so as to allow corporations to do what unions have done for decades, voice their opinions using cash. I take it you think that is somehow unAmerican. As for term limits, elitists such as Coolican oppose them because it gives greater voice to taxpayers as to whom to vote for. For years, we were under-the-thumb of political parties who, in the dead-of-the-night or in "smoke-filled-back-rooms," carved up "safe" districts for their handpicked cronies who quickly became life-long incumbents. Term limits have helped to reduce or eliminate that sordid practice although Gerrymandering lives on. Under our form of government, the folks are supposed to be the "deciders," not corrupt, deceptive and devious politico's along with their pond-scum crony's. Term limits are a step in that direction! It's We The People; not we the politicians!

  3. Sorry, your logic doesn't hold water. Yes, politics is complicated, but it's not rocket science. "Everybody is worried about their next election" because they're doing a crappy job. Once the reality becomes entrenched that they're not going to be there forever, they'll start doing to the people's work, not work that will benefit only them. As usual, you liberals believe that only the privileged class can lead and rule. You're wrong. The people have the ability and the skill to lead. Too bad they'll be leading the great unwashed rather than your selected few.

  4. I guess I might be going out on a limb but I always thought the definition to term limits was Elections.
    Now you can say whatever you what about back room deals and what not but nobody can tell a group of other people how to vote and if they don't then they will pay the price, And expect them to do so, I always vote a secret ballot and everyone should do that.
    If someone asks you how you intend to vote just tell them a secret ballot and then you will find out how they themselves intend to vote because they will start to demonize the other party.
    Then tell them if that's how you feel then that's how you should vote have a good day.

  5. Term limits shift the power from elected experts, who have the public in mind, to lobbyists. When freshmen legislators have to be brought up to speed by lobbyists you get a mining industry that REMAINS untouchable.

  6. Patrick - Your premise is flawed on the basis that Nevada isn't like Iowa or wherever you came from five years ago. Those "career politicians" were largely from the north, and their legislative prowess - combined with a lack of such among relatively inexperienced newcomers in fluid Southern Nevada districts - led to politicians like Bill Raggio and Joe Dini consistently pillaging Clark County to benefit their home provinces.

    As much as we tend to think that Brian Sandoval only cares about Nevadans who live within 100 miles of the McCarran Loop, imagine if the legislature was run by a similar mindset.

  7. J. Patrick - You missed the point. We want less government, not more. The less the legislature gets accomplished each session, the better off we are. If the members aren't around long enough for the lobbyists to get to know, they will be less likely to offer up enticements that appeal to them. It will work - give it time. We will see fewer and fewer "good ideas" that restrict our freedoms. People like you think that we need more people like you telling us how to live our lives as we are not smart enough to figure it out. Not so. We voted to pass this bill, didn't we?

  8. I am torn on this issue. Philosophically, I consider the ballot box to be the ultimate term limit and anything that takes away from an individual's right to vote is wrong.

    But from a practical perspective I can see that few of the electorate has the brains of a goose. Or rather too many of them have the herd or flock instinct. They continue to blindly follow the leader in election after election.

  9. Term limits serve only one purpose: To take from the voters yet another choice. Suppose you actually LIKE the job someone is doing but term limits FORCE you to vote for someone else? Will you be happy with that?
    Truly FREE elections demand that ALL choices be on the table for the voter to choose from, including keeping those who are doing the job we sent them to do. Term limits yank another choice out of your hands.
    Oddly, it seems some of you won't be happy until ALL of your choices are taken away and you are just TOLD who to vote for. Wait...we already have that situation, don't we? After all, that is what political parties are for...to TELL you who to vote for, lest you be branded a traitor to your party. Here's a newsflash - It isn't YOUR party anyway. It is THEIRS.
    If you want to limit someone's term in office, vote for someone else. Isn't that how it used to work, back when people were allowed to think for themselves?
    The only truly "independent" voter is a voter that does not belong to any political party. For those who think they are independent because they BELONG to the "Independent" PARTY...surprise. You are NOT independent if you BELONG to ANY party. You are a party member, period.
    Term limits only serve those who don't want to be bothered doing their own thinking and making their own choices, even if that choice is to re-elect the guy you elected last time.
    In short, term limits, like political parties, are for sheep. The wolves operate alone.