* Chris Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, tackled some myths about term limits in Crain’s. Mooney has done quite a bit of research on the topic.
One point that particularly caught my eye is the apparently false belief that term limits shift power to lobbyists…
Lobbyists despise term limits and are not strengthened. Their job depends on developing trust with lawmakers and educating them on issues. With term limits, lobbyists must work ever harder at this, as members and leaders come and go.
That’s an interesting point and probably spot on.
• Term limits will yield “citizen legislators,” bringing some common sense and real-world experience to state government.
False. Term-limited legislators are no different in their political experience and ambition than those who are not term-limited, although there is more “churning” of officeholders, as local officials and state lawmakers swap offices more frequently.
• Term limits will make legislatures more diverse.
False. Term-limited lawmakers are not noticeably different in occupational profile, average age, gender or race.
• Term limits will increase competition and decrease campaign spending.
False. Overall, these don’t change with term limits, although their patterns do. A term-limited incumbent is almost never challenged for re-election. Rather, people interested in the job will wait for his/her final term, at which point there is a colossal scrum for the open seat. Whoever wins the seat then gets a pass until his/her limit is reached.
* Another interesting point…
Committee chairs have less knowledge of issues and procedures, leading to more chaotic, partisan hearings and less influence in the lawmaking process.
In the House, committees are very tightly controlled by leadership, so term limits would likely produce even more partisan “chaos.”
* I know I’m excerpting too much, but one final thought from Mooney…
Of course, term limits advocates might argue that weakening the legislature is good. But as one who values the American principle of balanced power in government, I offer one word of caution to those who would like to see the currently strong Illinois governorship grow even stronger: Blagojevich.