Californians now, more than ever, may recognize how much of their state’s economy runs on the lifeblood of state spending. In the current economic freefall, as the state struggles for a metaphorical ripcord, the term limits argument is probably going to be superceded by widespread replacement of established politicians next election, coupled with the entrance of a generation of newly elected politicians. While this type of exodus commonly results from widespread dissatisfaction and disaster, it is important that the new generation of politicians not become entrenched.
Politics, like natural processes, moves in cycles. New politicians enter to fix the problems that entrenched politicians either create or fail to remedy. The new politicians become entrenched as they grow attached to their power, positions, connections, etc. While not all the headlines about cutbacks, shortage, furloughs and economic peril can be attached to current politicians, an economic crisis like this was about inevitable as the next big earthquake, and our leaders were unprepared to manage it.
Term limits have downsides. They force politicians to do a lot of learning with a short learning curve; there are fewer career politicians around to mentor new additions to the congress. There is less a sense of tradition, which may cause breaches of decorum. Mistakes may be made. However, the benefits outweigh these concerns, of which there are few.
While new politicians may commit political party-fouls, they are much more likely to do innovative new things that differ from the past for the better. Many political traditions, coalitions and power concentrations are not substantiated by reason, but instead by traditional fallacy- it’s always been this way, and so it should stay this way. Traditional fallacy is not a sufficient political philosophy to govern by. Politicians with term limits ensure regular turnover such that new politicians are not only entrenched in old political traditions, but they also do not get a chance to become entrenched before their term is up.
Term limits also reduce the motive for getting entrenched in the first place. Political alliances exist to help accelerate the approval of various bills, or to smooth the way in future reelections. While coalitions are essential for political expediency, they can be harmful in the context of reelection. Seeking reelection is the context in which politicians make safe choices, or find their way into well monied pockets. Term limits both reduce the motive to resist going for broke- after all, they can’t be reelected- and remove the motive for politicians to sell out for reelection.
In this way, term limits can act as a partial substitute for campaign finance reform. If we can’t have public elections, at least term limits can remove the impetus for legislating on behalf of future donors. Term limits also make it logistically more difficult for corporate conglomerates or other would be campaign donors to find permanent, friendly legislators whom they can park their money- and interests- with. Corporate donors, whose money may otherwise deafen a legislator’s unbiased ear to constituents, are at least kept busy trying to buy a range of legislators, all of whom may resist, rather than sending funding towards reliable congress and senate “lifers”.
As the state seeks to recover from the recession, Californians should press hard for term limits that encourage the regular political turnover that could prevent this type of mess in the future.