Opinion Editorial

By Dennis Polhill

Professional politicians hate term limits. Their actions in 2002 reveal how much.

Voters know that term limits are most needed for the U.S. Congress. Colorado’s 1990 term limits initiative spawned nationwide clamor, because it included Congressional Term Limits. By 1994 twenty-three states, all but New Hampshire by citizen initiative, had term-limited their state’s Congressional delegation. In 1995 the U.S. Supreme Court said that Congressional Term Limits required a U.S. Constitutional Amendment. Also in 1995, the Republican controlled Congress proved by its hypocritical and manipulative handling of their “Contract with America” that Republican politicians are no more supportive of term limits than Democrat politicians and that politicians of all flavors must be forced if the will of the people was to be implemented. This is the genesis of Colorado’s “Congressional Term Limits Amendment” approved 1996.

Knowing that politicians would resist, the CTLA instructed all elected officials to do all in their power to achieve Congressional Term Limits, stated the exact language of the U.S. Constitutional Amendment, and implemented a means to inform voters about the actions of their elected officials. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that elected officials could not be held accountable by this mechanism. The United States Supreme Court also ruled the enforcement mechanism to be unconstitutional in a case from another state.

The Colorado Supreme Court may have declared CTLA as a whole to be unconstitutional, but the statements it contains that term limits are the will of the people, can neither be overruled nor should they be ignored or deleted.
Yet not a single Colorado state or federal legislator has made any effort to follow CTLA’ s term limit instructions. Their refusal-to-act displays a high level of arrogance and contempt toward their constituents.

State legislator term limits swept out dozens of lifelong politicians in 1998 replacing hundreds of years of myopic Capitol dome experience with hundreds of years of experience of many kinds from the outside world. Legislation is no worse than before and occasional glimmers of innovative policy leadership fuel hope. But politicians are still politicians and though many of the newcomers might not have had the opportunity to serve for decades, they exhibit no more loyalty for term limits than their careerist predecessors. That politicians should stay in office forever is sheer dictatorial reasoning. Such reasoning is blatantly undemocratic and has been long-settled by the pro-term limits votes of 1990, 1994, 1996, and 1998.

In the 2002 legislative session, legislators decided that the CTLA was an “Obsolete Provision.” This will appear on the November ballot as Referred Measure “D.” During the last week of the session it cleared both Houses unanimously in a week. Duped legislators have expressed remorse for having been deceived. Had there been opportunity for public testimony, two-thirds votes would have been unlikely. The House Sponsor had to be convinced that deletion of CTLA was included in obsolete provisions and initially promised to take aggressive actions to stop it.

Generally the deletion of obsolete provisions is reserved for truly obsolete items; things that have fulfilled their purpose. When the Denver Post commented about Measure “D,” they wrote about items that had been obsolete since 1902, but failed to mention the 1996 initiative. If there is any question about obsolescence, then that information should be made known to the public. To do otherwise is deception. An honest title would be “Deletion of Congressional Term Limits.”

Supposedly there is a long list of obsolete items waiting to be deleted. If this is true then, why is a 1996 initiative at the top of the list? There must be a hidden agenda.

The Blue Book’s (voter information guide) reputation of objectivity is in jeopardy. Staff refused to allow any information to go to voters about the CTLA. Complaints are adjudicated by a committee of legislators; is there a little conflict of interest in this process?

The misguided attempt to delete the CTLA exposes the need for numerous legislative reforms: deceptive titles should be banned; limits should be installed on the last weeks of the legislative session; who controls legislature output deserves a look, since legislators evidently do not; Blue Book information that goes to voters is suspect; a mandatory mechanism of insuring testimony from informed parties is needed. Obfuscations aid those who wish to manipulate election outcomes, but injure the search for truth.

Copyright 2002, Independence Institute

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is President of the Institute.

DENNIS POLHILL is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute .

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES on this subject can be found at: www.i2i.org

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