DENVER BUSINESS JOURNAL Denver, CO, February 6, 1998

Trying again at limiting a politician’s term

The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down Amendment 12 highlights the court’s overtly political agenda. Instead of respecting the people’s right to petition the government for change, the justices found in favor of professional politicians.

Amendment 12 was approved by voters in 1996 and would have notified voters of a candidate’s position through a notation on the ballot. It was struck down as “coercive.” Chief Justice Vollack wrote that the amendment “takes away from elected officials the right to exercise their own judgment and vote the best interest of their constituencies as they perceive them.” Take away their judgment? How so?

Amendment 12 would not have prevented legislators from voting their conscience, nor would it have punished them for voting against congressional term limits — unless you consider stating the truth about a legislator’s legislative actions as “punishment.”

The court’s conjecture that the ballot label would harm all legislators who vote against term limits is both false and stinks of the reasoning that politicians have a “right” to hold office.

But all is not lost. In November 1998, Colorado voters will have the opportunity to vote for the “Congressional Term Limits Declaration’ It will allow candidates to declare and demonstrate their support for term limits by pledging to voluntarily serve no more than three terms in the House of Representatives or two terms in the Senate. Candidates are also empowered to authorize information to appear on the ballot.

Because the declaration is completely voluntary, it differs substantially from Amendment 12. If a candidate did not want to sign the declaration, he or she would not have to, nor would any language describing a candidate’s legislative actions be on the ballot.

The first part pledges a candidate to serve only the specified amount of time. The second part asks the Secretary of State to place this information on the ballot. In the case that a candidate breaks his or her pledge to serve three terms in the House and has signed the second part, the words “Running for xth term after declaring intention to limit service to no more than 3 terms” will appear on the ballot next to his or her name.

Candidates who take the declaration will be promising to represent their constituents as citizen legislators, not career politicians. Instead of promoting a long career in Washington, self-limiters will serve the interests of their constituents. Colorado voters want representatives who are connected to the people and the concerns of their state and who will work efficiently to promote these interests. Only a self-limiting member, who has six years (or 12 in the Senate) to make a difference, will fulfill those promises.

While the court finds that legislators have a “right” to be shielded from the electorate while holding office, they cannot object to a candidate voluntarily declaring and demonstrating his or her support for term limits. If Colorado voters decide to enact the “Congressional Term Limits Declaration’ they will be saying that the more the voters know, the better.

Dennis Polhill is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden.