When UCF announced we would spearhead a ballot initiative for term limits in Mississippi several weeks ago, the pundits, many of whom also benefit from the current political structure, began to crank out rationalizations against it. The only thing close to a thoughtful argument against term-limits from any of these has been the idea that we need legislators with “experience,” or “institutional knowledge”.
However, as Ronald Reagan so aptly put it, “the only experience you gain in politics is how to be political.”
Most people would agree that so-called “experience” of this sort is what has gotten us into trouble and helped give Mississippi the distinction as the most corrupt state in the nation. A power hungry alliance of the political establishment, lobbyists, an expansive bureaucracy, and a growing divide between the well-connected and those burdened with regulation has resulted in a more disengaged citizenry fed up with an out of touch government. Meanwhile, corruption has worsened to a point that we are no longer even surprised by it.
In Sid Salter’s latest column he attempts to define term-limits as bad policy by promoting a number of things that views Mississippi from the past millennium. The “experience” argument is one of them. He also highlights two term-limit initiative failures in 1995 and 1999, and pushes the idea of what he calls “sectionalism.”
First, the new term-limits initiative is different from either of the previous two, both of which were attempted nearly two decades ago. Initiative 51 doesn’t remove someone from being considered for public office for life. It requires a four year interval between two consecutive terms in the same office, at which time they may also consider running for a different office if they wish to stay in public service during that time. This is an important distinction.
Allowing the introduction of a new politician, hand-picked by the same old players, to take the place of another previously hand-picked politician is how political factions have come to rule. It’s how political parties instill ‘wait-your-turn’ discipline that leads to cronyism and doubling down on stagnant policy. Initiative 51 will encourage new engagement from citizens, it will incentivize coalition building and it will require candidates to discuss why they support policies in much more specific detail to the voting public.
Salter’s idea of “sectionalism,” that somehow regions such as the Delta will turn on areas like the Gulf Coast or the Golden Triangle in the legislature, seems quite the throwback position.
Communication today is nothing like it was even only 5 years ago. For example, I live and work in the small town of Flora, but I’m not isolated here. I frequently connect and work with people all over the state without seeing them in person for months at a time. Associations and working relationships are no longer defined by geographic boundaries. News doesn’t come strictly from local community newspapers or via any singular source. People across the state today are not only versed in their own regions issues, they are also knowledgeable about what is happening across the state and they get that information from a variety of sources.
Lobbyists, special interest groups and the politically connected know that having the same people in office over and over again is good for their bottom line. They know exactly where to mail the money. Elections have become check-lists for special interests who only need make sure they have enough funds on hand to keep paying to get what they want.
Where does this leave the everyday Mississippian? Out in the cold without real representation.
The position that term-limits failed twenty years ago, so therefore will fail today in 2015 isn’t supported by the facts. The data shows Mississippians want term-limits to end careerism and the pay-to-play system our government has become. Citizens in our state overwhelmingly support term-limits to the tune of between 75% to 80%. That’s a pretty good sign people are ready to grasp control of this runaway train no matter what region they are from.
Mississippians don’t want elected officials to partner with bureaucrats and lobbyists. They want them to take seriously the job of oversight. It shouldn’t be about looking for ways to spend more money, but whether government programs are actually performing.
Term limits is a step toward removing the obstacles to citizens becoming part of the solutions that effectively address needs they see in their communities every day.
Keith Plunkett is the Policy and Communications Director for the United Conservatives Fund and sponsor of the term limits ballot initiative in Mississippi. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett