Thursday, 05 January 2017 13:50

Louisiana legislative term Limits musical chair beats sclerotic governance alternative

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musical chairsAnother term-limited Louisiana legislator trying to jump ship early just adds to the data points confirming the wisdom of term limits on the position.

In the past year seven legislators in their final term either have left their posts early or have signaled a desire to do so. With two, state Rep. John Schroder and state Sen. Neil Riser, they hope to become Sen. John Kennedy’s successor as treasurer in a special election, a definite chance for promotion of which they may availed themselves even if not in their third terms as they don’t lose their current jobs if unsuccessful. But former state Reps. Bryan Adams, Joe Lopinto, and Jack Montoucet left shortly after their elections for other jobs in government, former state Rep. Tom Wilmott made a downhill move in a parish council seat, and state Sen. Danny Martiny has become the latest, looking to emulate Wilmott.

Possibly except for Schroder and Riser, none likely would have sought to leave before term’s end, and probably would have run for fourth terms, without term limits. However, given their natures – like tigers who when killing a human find they acquire a taste for us – these politicians have discovered they like wielding power and having taxpayers compensate them for it.

Therefore, we get more campaigns for more offices as a result. And we get these for longer periods as well, for others know who has embarked on a final term and so they begin running earlier and longer to succeed them, instead of waiting to see whether an incumbent wants to have another go at it.

Some observers don’t seem too jacked about “more job-shopping and extend[ed] campaign seasons,” and also decry the “lost institutional knowledge” that results. Yet, consider the alternative. Certainly, more competition for more jobs cannot injure the Republic and improves upon a situation where incumbents, using the tools of the office to reduce competition, almost always won reelection. And as Louisiana’s “institutional knowledge” in the past ended up ranking the state low on most indicators of economic development and quality of life, it doesn’t seem that repository had much value to it, meriting its dispersal.

Term limits act as a peaceful alternative to Thomas Jefferson’s evaluation of Shays Rebellion that “God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion …. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Regarding its legislature, Louisiana permits a rolling rebellion in 12-year generations minus the bloodshed.

And this also performs the valuable service of indicating who really wants to do their duty and who doesn’t. Adams, Lopinto, Montoucet, and Martiny all appear to have had less enthusiasm about doing their jobs because they were in the minority – even though all but Montoucet are Republicans in GOP-led chambers. That’s because all publicly supported Democrat John Bel Edwards over former Sen. David Vitter, a conservative Republican, and found their influence in the chambers waning as a consequence.

Of course, many who finish their final terms still have great passion to perform their current jobs and don’t want to look for a parachute, and would have liked to try to keep going, so term limits sweep them out as well. However, whoever will replace them seem highly likely to have great motivation as well. Thus, on balance, term limits produce legislators of greater commitment to their constituents and the state because this weeds out those thinking about other things and/or going through the motions because they enjoy the idea of being a legislator more than acting as one.

So, let’s play the game of musical chairs encouraged by term limits. It beats the alternative of more sclerotic governance.

Jeffrey Sadow

Jeffrey Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.   He writes a daily conservative blog called Between The Lines
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