Golden Transcript, February 13, 1998

Voluntary term limits?

The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision 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, approved by voters in the November 1996 election that would have notified voters of a candidate’s position on term limits through a notation on the ballot, 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 have given the voters information on a U.S. legislator’s legislative actions on congressional term limits. It 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. Popular legislators who do not support term limits would continue to be elected. In fact, many term limits detractors would find the ballot labeling a useful means to pick candidates who will vote against the reform.

Voting is not a knee-jerk reaction for the citizens of Colorado. Many factors are involved in picking a candidate, term limits being one of them. For the court to assume that all term limit foes will be thrown out of office infers an innate tunnel vision on the part of the electorate that is completely unfounded.

But all is not lost. In November, 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 U.S. House of Representatives or two terms in the U.S. Senate (the same limits repeatedly approved by voters in Colorado and many other states). 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. On the other hand, a candidate may decide to sign the first or both parts of the declaration.

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 three terms” will appear on the ballot next to his or her name. Since the Congressional Term Limits Declaration is 100% voluntary, the courts will not be able to insinuate that it coerces legislators to vote in a particular manner.

While the Colorado Supreme Court finds that legislator 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, like Thomas Jefferson, that the more the voters know the better.

Dennis Polhill senior fellow Independence Institute.