SADOW: Term Limits Would Be Beneficial – And Not Just In Bossier

It’s a tall order given the power elites involved, but the Bossier Parish Republican Parish Executive Committee has launched some initiatives worthy of emulation statewide.

Last week, the PEC endorsed that the Bossier City Council convene a charter committee with the intent of installing a three-term limit to its members and the mayor’s office. This route requires city registered voter signatures equal to a third of the turnout in last mayoral contest, or 2,742 to place the matter in front of the Council where if it doesn’t ratify the result by a majority then the matter would go to referendum at the next scheduled election, where a majority in favor implements.

It also announced another petitioning project for parish voters requesting the same on Bossier Parish Police Jury members. As one of the 36 parishes in the state whose government operates without a charter, it functions under state law, requiring legislators to pass a law placing limits which would be unprecedented. It also called upon the Jury to resolve whether it endorses the idea.

The good old boy establishment clearly doesn’t, as indicated by the rhetoric of Republican Juror Doug Rimmer, finishing his third term in office and 2023 (and for the third time in his 12 years) president of the Jury. At the meeting, he trotted out one very tired and one very risible argument against the concept.

As for the old, Rimmer said long-serving members were advantageous because they allegedly acquired institutional knowledge that counters what he called the “deep state” of bureaucrats. At a general level, it is a simultaneous breathtakingly arrogant and self-deprecating argument, because it assumes people are too stupid to make good policy unless they have been in office awhile (meaning Rimmer was a dupe early in his juror career), thus a seasoned legislator is close to irreplaceable. In following this argument to its logical conclusion, not only does this display the height of elitism – perpetuating a myth of indispensability of a chosen elect few – but it also is profoundly anti-democratic, tending more to an endorsement of monarchy and presidents-for-life in vogue in certain Asian and African countries.

And Rimmer and his colleagues, past and present, have for over two decades invalidated the entire “deep state” countervailing thesis, beginning with appointing one of their own for two decades as parish administrator and then unanimously replacing him without any publicized search with longtime parish employee Butch Ford last year, illegally as he wasn’t registered to vote in the parish. Then, after Ford registered as a voter in Bossier Parish to comply with the that law 10 months late – illegally because he continued to maintain a homestead in Caddo Parish – last week he again unanimously was given a one-year contract to run the parish. Such behavior shows that either Rimmer and his colleagues, as experienced as some are, are ignorant of the law and/or incompetent, or the “deep state” of Rimmer’s febrile imagination and he with his colleagues are one and the same.

Then there’s the laughable argument. Rimmer asserted that only by allowing extended service permitted such jurors to become leaders in the Police Jury Association of Louisiana that brought benefits to the parish. In fact, two of the past five have come from Bossier Parish, including current president Republican Bob Brotherton, and all came from parishes operating under laws, not charters. This perhaps is because the majority of parishes of those with charters, including all among the top 15 in population, have term limits.

But Rimmer could provide no examples of these presumed benefits, because they don’t exist. Funding to specific parishes, such as that dedicated to transportation or derived from mineral revenues, for the most part is determined by formula. The exceptions to that, line items in the state’s operating budget, largely are a function of leadership and partisanship in the Legislature where Bossier Parish in per capita terms has underperformed in recent years despite its supposedly knowledgeably veteran police jurors.

That’s as, pound for pound, Bossier’s legislators likely are the most conservative in the state and the most visible foils to the liberal Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion, John Bel Edwards, as well as a burr in the side of the insider Legislative leadership, especially GOP Speaker Clay Schexnayder who owes his position to overwhelming Democrat support while opposed by a majority of Republicans. Earmarks of this nature have ballooned under his speakership, which he through his allowing these into the general appropriations bill as carrots and by Edwards’ veto of these as sticks they use these as means of discipline. Bossier legislators have suffered disproportionately these vetoes and neglect of if not vetoes cast against valuable legislation they instigated as well.

Of course, if as seems likely next year a far more conservative governor is at the state’s helm and pulls in GOP supermajorities to each chamber, at least for the next four years Bossier legislators, likely part of that wave, will have dramatically improved fortunes. But who gets elected to the Jury at the same time, and especially how many years they have in office, will have little to do with state largesse to the parish.

While term limits represent a small attenuation of voter choice, their benefits far exceed that cost. The path to their successful installation seems much more likely for the city than parish, because even a legislative delegation fervently united in supporting a term limits bill would be asking to do something never put in statute before and undoubtedly over the squawking of the Jury, which might scare off their fellow legislators (and would have to be written very generally in order to avoid legal prohibitions).

There is another option. The public can trigger formation of a charter review commission whose product must come to a vote if a tenth of registered voters petition for such (currently 7,612 in Bossier Parish). However, that would be a comprehensive effort of which term limits would be a small part.

The irony of the opposition to term limits comes in calling them undemocratic because of the minor removal of voter choice while ignoring the larger anti-democratic attitude that lies behind that notion: that currently-elected elites that would be disqualified by limits by definition are superior rulers because of the very fact they have been in office so long and therefore must be granted an opportunity for reelection. In reality, the quality of the citizenry is such that plenty of quality folks as good as, if not better, in governance are out there in the public, ready and willing to serve as seamless replacements of the graybeards in city and parish government.

To think that a demonstrable drop off, if any, in the quality of governance would occur if all of Bossier City councilors, its mayor, and Bossier Parish jurors, or any in any local government, with more than three terms of service were whisked out of office and replaced with motivated rookies is perhaps more a reflection on limits the contemplator perceives with his own talents than what talents actually exist in the public. Bossierites would do well to sign the petitions.

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