BY J. Randolph Evans – Column No. 1055 (2/11/11)
All things must come to an end, and sometimes they should sooner than later. There is no place where that is more true than in a government position. This is true regardless of whether the position is elected or appointed. It is true regardless of whether the job is federal, state, or local. In the battle between the people and the system of government, the system always wins.
There is a solution. Term limits. This is not a new or novel concept. Indeed, there are term limits for many offices. Following President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election to four terms, the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution imposed a two term limit on the Presidency. In Georgia, the Governor is limited to two consecutive terms. Thirty-six states and four territories impart some form of term limit on their governors. The risk of the concentration of power in the chief executive of the United States, and governors, is just too much.
Yet, the risks of the concentration of power extend well beyond the executive branches of the federal government and state governments. Legislators in the Congress and in state legislatures who are left unchecked in the acquisition of power pose equal or greater risks. No one doubts that the speakers of the Congress or state legislatures wield enormous power. And, the inevitable consequence of real power is the concentration of power over time. After all, power begets more power. Fifteen state legislatures require term limits for their members.
Certainly, since the Republican Revolution in 1994, and the advent of the internet and cable news, the modern voter has served as an increasingly effective check on legislative bodies and their leadership. Since 1990, there have been five different Speakers of the U.S. House. In 2010, the election of thirteen new United States Senators, and ninety-three new Representatives in the Congress sent a clear signal that American voters remain the ultimate check on unlimited terms. With the announcements already of retirements from the U. S. Congress in anticipation of the 2012 elections, there is every reason to believe that this trend will continue. Unfortunately, it does not appear that this voter imposed term limit has trickled down to the state level.
In Georgia, the only term limited office is that of the Governor. As a result, many of the other constitutional offices have become lifetime jobs for career politicians. Probably the best example of what can happen occurred with the Commissioner of Agriculture. Prior to the last election, Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture had been in office since before man landed on the moon in 1969. To no one’s surprise, the new Agriculture Commissioner found typewriters still in use when he took office in January 2011. Yet, for decades, no one (Democrat or Republican) could unseat an entrenched statewide politician intent on keeping in place antiquated systems that threatened the safety of everyone. Sadly, the result of his personal stranglehold on power was a spate of embarrassing food safety stories for Georgia that made national headlines.
Of course, like the Congress, voters in Georgia hold the ultimate power to force term limits on constitutional officers and legislators. The one area where that is not the case concerns bureaucrats. Institutional fixtures within federal, state and local government remain. Voters cannot fire them. Elected officials dare not test them. Rules protect them. Lobbyists back them. And, taxpayers must pay them. They are and remain the stealth oligarchy, slowing change at every turn for the sake of keeping everything the same, most of all their taxpayer provided paychecks.
It is a world that harbors candle makers, steadfastly questioning the wisdom of light bulbs, while refusing to consider the import of electricity in a new world. No private business could survive such institutional bureaucracy blinded to the realities of the new computer-based, internet-driven world. New ideas, new technologies, and new ways depend on new people in the ranks of public service.
Albert Einstein said: Insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The new class of elected officials could learn well from this admonition.
But then again, there are those who talk the talk, and those who walk the talk.
On May 19, 2001, then Georgia GOP Chairman Ralph Reed appointed me to serve on the State Election Board. At that time, the Board consisted of Secretary of State Cathy Cox, Democratic Party appointee Bobby Kahn, State Senate appointee Francis Duncan, and State House appointee Eunice Mixon. The meetings were short and consisted of little more than a rubber stamp of decisions made by the Secretary of State’s office. Things changed.
And now they must change again. The State Election Board meeting on February 24, 2011 will be my last. It is a self-imposed term limit – George Washington style.