December 11, 2019

Political Partisanship is Caused by Term Limits?

I got quite a kick out of reading former Attorney General Jon Lund’s and former Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, George Smith’s perspective on term limits and the call to get rid of them. A clear example of seeing the glass either half empty or half full or long-term “experienced” politicians vs. greenhorns who don’t know how to play the game devised over many years by “experienced” members of the Maine Legislature and leadership.

Perhaps the real problem with “term limits” is they are not term limits at all. If it takes more than 8, 10, or 16 years learn who’s palm gets greased and who does the greasing and what it is that is getting greased, isn’t that the real reason for term limits? The other argument is that no legislative position, once designed to be filled by part-time volunteer community service, should be recognized and treated as a career. Has one’s imagination and reality become so clouded that we cannot see the problems with career politicians at every level? Evidently. Try blowing the smoke away or remove yourself from the accepted status quo long enough to see what the rest of us see.

Lund describes term limits as causing the loss of “the opportunity to develop and retain experienced and skillful leadership and a cadre of experienced legislators.”  There’s more than one way to look at this. Why is there a need to “develop” politicians? It is made to sound like when a person enters the fray in Augusta for the first time, they are told what they will do and how they will do it…or else. Oh, wait a minute. That is exactly how it is done according to some former Maine legislators that I have talked with. Once you have proven that you are agreeable to play politics according to the whims of those who got “developed” and “retained” by the previous good-ole-boys, then you can become one of them and with this, evidently, it is what Smith and Lund describe as “credibility.”

Lund further states: “…in order to gain credibility with their peers, a first-term legislator needs to say very little and carefully develop expertise.” Need I say more. What is wrong with a system in which when a perfectly intelligent person walks into the halls of the Legislature on that very first day and is expected by the sitting leadership to “say very little and carefully develop expertise?” There’s that word develop again. And what is expertise? Is that conforming to the way it’s always been or you’re outta here?!?!?

The author claims it takes time to “…learn the legislative process, develop leadership skills, and gain the confidence of fellow legislators.” For what purpose? How many brains does it take to learn a legislative process unless that process includes learning how things get done in Augusta? Isn’t the argument, or at least part of it, that carrying out the legislative business the way it’s always been carried out, complete with doing what you are told for long enough to “earn credibility” the problem?

And lastly, Lund blames the partisanship in Augusta on term limits: “…we did not experience the paralyzing partisanship that appears to mark the State House today. I attribute the difference, in part, to the presence of a larger proportion of experienced members in the Legislature.” (Note: I’m guessing this is a typo. Either the author meant to use the word “inexperienced” or he just seriously contradicted his entire argument of attempting to blame partisanship on term limits.)

According to Mr. Lund then there are two options available – get rid of term limits and fill the seats in Augusta with all the most experienced “politicians” completely bought and paid for so that they can get done only those things they want to be done, or, implement real term limits of one term of four years in either house…period – end of discussion. The way Smith and Lund describe it there’s only a handful of robotic puppets capable of carrying out the business of running the State of Maine. The rest of us are just too stupid. Some have argued that nobody wants the job. That may be true but have you ever considered that there would be little desire for a job that once you get there you are told to sit down and shut up because you haven’t learned how WE do things around here?

Smith mostly parrots what Lund says and says being in Augusta isn’t “fun” anymore because of term limits. He too says that lack of “experience” doesn’t make it fun anymore – no more going out to lunch and socializing like the good-ole-days.

Confusing to me, Smith cites an example of a friend of his who “in just his second term” and made the head of the Fish and Wildlife Committee, was a lone dissenter on a bill being discussed. This friend “fought his committee for several hours in a House debate, angering many of them.” And because this guy had a mind of his own and argued his case, he is unqualified to be a legislator? Would he then have had “credibility” if he just sat down and shut up and went along to get along?

The longer politicians spend in office the potential becomes exponential in the amount of corruption that can and does take place. There are many Maine citizens very capable of carrying out the business of the Maine Legislature without having first to pay tribute to the rank and file “credible” and “experienced” politicians. Isn’t this the very reason there is no respect among the citizens for politicians and they find the idea of serving in a legislative position akin to walking on hot coals?

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