Palisade Tribune, Palisade, CO (Mesa County), February 19, 1998

Court Errs in Derailing Limits

By Dennis Polhill

The Colorado Supreme Court’s recent 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, would have notified voters of a candidate’s position on term limits 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 have given the voters information on a 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.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “And say, finally, whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government, or information to the people. This last is most certain, and the most legitimate engine of government. Educated and inform the whole mass of people … They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” But the court ruled against giving information to the people in favor of bolstering professional politicians. How far we have strayed from the Founding Fathers’ vision.

But all is not lost. In November of 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 (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 he 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 ease 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 fourth 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 percent voluntary, the courts will not be able to insinuate that it coerces legislators to vote in a particular manner.

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 those interests.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute.