Monument Tribune, February 5, 1998

You Can’t Object to Voluntary Term Limits

By Dennis Polhill, Independence Institute

The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down Amendment 12 highlights the courts 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 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 he 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 curt to assume that all term limit foes will he 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 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 describe 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.

While the Colorado Supreme Court finds that legislators have a “right” to he shielded from the electorate while holding office, they can not 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 Jefferson, that the more the voters know the better.

Dennis Polhill is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank located in Golden, Colorado.