SADOW: Only The Politicians Want Stuart Bishop’s Lax Term Limits Bill

Republican state Rep. Stuart Bishop’s HB 205 that would bump up from three to four term limitations on legislators doesn’t create better policy-making, but does slake the appetites of politicians.

Bishop, himself term-limited for whom the bill wouldn’t apply, to justify the extension trots out the old and tired argument that a lot of “institutional knowledge” goes up the road when legislators hit the limit, which then allegedly passes control of matters more into the hands of special interests and staff. It’s yet another affirmation that elected officials are like man-eating lions: like with humans for big cats, the taste of power is foreign to them until they have some, and then they acquire a taste for it to the point they must have more.

The argument to increase limits has so many holes in it, beginning with the assumption that, in his formulation, a dozen years isn’t enough to grasp the inner workings of the legislator’s job. Yet, according to him, 13 (at least; it could be all the way to 16) is the magic number. Why 13 instead of 12? And not even his own allies agree; GOP state Rep. Barry Ivey has argued that some matters simply are beyond the time and energy a legislator has at any point in a legislative career, forcing too much dependence necessarily on staff and lobbyists no matter how long you’ve been there.

Even if Bishop thinks the point of competence occurs fewer years in, so his proposal could weigh the composition of a chamber more heavily towards longer-serving members, that view also contains the imaginary conceit that experienced legislators are a different breed, indispensable to the health of the republic and therefore more desirable in office than fresh faces that haven’t been molded yet, if not captured, by the forces Bishop mentions. That position assumes the experienced better resist manipulation without acknowledging that equally as likely, if not more so, the experienced become locked into alliances with those very outsiders that lead them to promote more often special interests rather than the people’s agenda.

And as to Bishop’s implication that a legislator can’t learn enough and keep up in even a dozen years, I will try to be charitable. He shouldn’t assume that everybody is as slow a learner as he seems to think they must be, whether he draws that from personal experience exclusive to his own career. There are plenty of talented individuals out there who can learn much more quickly the legislator’s job and policy – if they don’t already have a good grasp of issues prior to service – than he seems to think possible.

Finally, of course, there is the empirical putdown of his attitude: as Louisiana has done so poorly in so many policy ways, regularly hitting lists of the worst-run states, then what good is that “institutional knowledge?” It certainly doesn’t seem to have helped.

Essentially, Bishop tells us the Legislature has too many of the unwashed who need a priesthood that he’s trying to increase in proportion, that will produce a greater ability of leading the untutored around by the nose to resist the evil special interests and well-meaning but not representing the people staff. Is this how we want to be governed?

Or, do we believe in a different model that presumes voters can spot people offering themselves for election adequate enough to fulfill their policy desires, who haven’t spent so much time in power that they become too likely to respond to special interests rather than to constituents? And that capability to govern in the people’s interest rests within non-legislators or less experienced ones as bountifully as within those legislators more seasoned?

It’s the latter concept. People, both inexperienced candidates and voters, aren’t as dumb as Bishop believes, and the very essence of a part-time legislature is by design to keep legislators from identifying with the agenda of state government and its rent seekers over the policy preferences of the people. The shorter the term limit the better to accomplish this, making Bishop’s backward step a bad idea that more meets the needs of politicians than it promotes accomplishing the people’s desires.

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