By Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of U.S. Term Limits
Their target this time is Rick Scott, who’s promoting term limits in a state where 82 percent of residents want term limits. That used to be called representation but it’s apparently beyond the pale for Florida’s political class, who say Congress is working just fine. Maybe it is for them.
Since term limits transfer power away from the political elite and back to citizens — as our founders wanted — they’ve never been easy to digest for those who make a living in politics. Professors, pundits and politicians are always stunned to learn that truckers, teachers and tour guides can do a better job in elected office.
But that’s exactly what our experience with term limits has found. Term limits in Florida have been a grand slam success — so positive and impactful that citizens at every level are clamoring for more. Owing to that, Florida voters this fall will have an opportunity to impose eight-year term limits on all school board members.
Critics of term limits like to spin the old yarn that term limits take away choice. But in reality, Florida voters have gained choice from term limits. Before the 1992 “Eight is Enough” initiative took effect, Florida routinely had to cancel a majority of its elections for State Legislature because no one would take on powerful incumbents. That meant most voters weren’t even allowed to make a choice.
By opening up seats every eight years, term limits have guaranteed our citizens competitive elections on a regular basis. Since no race attracts more candidates than an open seat, term limits have given voters more options to choose from than ever before. In Florida, we have elections because of term limits.
Rick Scott should be commended for wanting to see the same renaissance of democracy happen on the federal stage. According to data from the Lucy Burns Institute, competitiveness in congressional elections is almost nonexistent. Only 35 U.S. House races are expected to be competitive in 2018 while the other 400 will be unserious, largely incumbent-dominated affairs.
With federal term limits, our elections would no longer look like a soviet grocery store. Fresh faces would finally emerge to run for office. Voters would get the real choice and competition they deserve.
Insiders also like to accuse term limits of empowering lobbyists and bureaucrats. But in this case they are putting the wrong defendant on trial. It was career politicians — not term-limited lawmakers — who created a federal government of 2.5 million employees then allowed it be plundered by 12,000 lobbyists.
While careerist government in D.C. has swelled, our term-limited government in Florida has shrunk. State spending as a share of income is 22 percent less than it was before term limits. The size of Florida’s government workforce is also down, blowing a huge hole in the bureaucracy argument. George Mason University rates the Florida Legislature number one in the country in fiscal health, which demolishes the notion that “less experienced” lawmakers cannot govern.
Nor does the lobbyist argument hold water. Lobbyists and their clients have a documented history of donating to stop term limits because they fear losing access to entrenched politicians. Ex-megalobbyist Jack Abramoff once said that lobbyists hate term limits because “a representative who stayed in office for decades, and was a friend, was worth his weight in gold” to the lobbying community.
The Washington swamp might laugh and mock Rick Scott for his term limits proposal, but the people of Florida support him on this. And so do the facts.
Nick Tomboulides is the Executive Director of U.S. Term Limits, a nonprofit group that fights for term limits at all levels of government. He is based in Melbourne, Florida.