Term limitations are a folly fad
by Greg Boll
WORTHINGTON -- I commend Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, Rep. Ted Winter, DFL-Fulda, Rep. Katy Olson, DFL-Sherburn, and Rep. Andy Steensma, DFL-Luverne, for recognizing the folly of the current term limitation fad that is making the rounds in Minnesota, courtesy of Ben Whitney, Eric Willette and their "Minnesotans For Term Limits" group.
Support for term limits in Minnesota has its origins in the Independent-Republican Party. Unable to win elections against effective, respected Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party incumbents such as Vickerman, Winter, Olson and Steensma, and unable to regain control of the Minnesota Senate or Minnesota House, many of them see this as a way of obtaining that control. They would do wise to listen to their fellow Republican, Rep. Fred Grandy, R-Iowa, who, in a Daily Globe Guest Opinion on June 8, 1991, suggested that term limits could realistically foster corruption in government. Grandy said elected officials would become more prone to be "in it for themselves" rather than for their constituents as they sought to lay the foundation -- by whatever means -- for a future appointment or government job after their elected days were over.
There are a number of valid arguments against term limits. In the first place, here in Minnesota it has been demonstrated that setting term limits is unnecessary. Looking at the statistics, more than 80 percent of the Minnesota Legislature's seats changed hands between 1979 and 1989. And, after the 1992 election, there will have been a 48 percent turnover in the Legislature in just two years. House members are in office for an average of 7.8 years, Senate member an average of 9.9 years.
Those elected to the Legislature quickly find out that it takes time to "learn the ropes" in St. Paul. And it takes time to build up contacts that will lead to fruitful results for one's constituents. Vickerman, Winter, Olson and Steensma are just beginning to build up sufficient experience and seniority to be genuinely effective on our behalf. If we lose these budding leaders at a time when they can be most helpful, we open the door to unelected bureaucrats and lobbyists sitting and controlling state policy.
Then there's the fact that, if term limits were imposed, the number of former legislators and constitutional officers drawing pensions would swell. Certainly none of us favors more money being spent for this.
Term limits might also discourage active competition for legislative seats. Once legislators have been in for several years, potential challengers would be more apt to avoid taking them on, preferring to wait for the seats to open up when the incumbents are barred from further service due to term limitations.
And term limits would take away the remaining clout that rural Minnesota has in the Legislature. With redistricting, rural legislators are substantially outnumbered by their suburban and metropolitan counterparts. Fortunately, many of our rural legislators now have seniority and are able to counteract the numbers with their experience and "weight." Certainly, none of use wants to lose the benefits this provides us.
Finally, perhaps the most important argument against term limits is the fact that the open, fair, democratic process has served us well for many years. If we have a good legislator, we re-elect that legislator as long as he or she serves us well, or until he or she decides to step down. If we have a poor legislator who doesn't perform up to our standards, we elect someone else to replace him or her. It's as simple as that. We, the people, ultimately have the choice on how long that person will represent us. On the other hand, proponents of term limits are, in effect, saying "Yes, you have a choice on who will represent you, but only for so long. Then you no longer have that choice." This takes away the people's full right to select the person they feel is best qualified to serve them.
There are too many genuinely important issues confronting Minnesotans and the rest of the nation today to dwell on such short-sighted trendiness. Let's expend our energy working together with Vickerman, Winter, Olson, Steensma and others to maintain our rural clout, and to continue our efforts to revitalize the rural economy.
Greg Boll is chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party for District 22, which includes Nobles, Cottonwood, Jackson, Martin, Murray and Watonwan counties, and is a member of the state DFL's executive committee. [This editorial originally appeared in the Worthington Daily Globe on October 17, 1992.]
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