By: DJ Parten
This article may earn me some criticism from many of my conservative friends and allies, but this is a discussion that is well worth having.
Conservatives are often the biggest advocates for implementing term limits in the 21st century; their primary claim being that restricting the length of time a politician can be in office will somehow minimize the corruption in politics.
Advocates also claim that term limits will hamper a politician’s ability to be influenced by special interests and the amount of power any one elected official can gain.
Perhaps the biggest talking point for those who support term limits is that they want to get rid of career politicians.
But term limits don’t actually work that way. Term limits do nothing to stop bad politicians, and they perhaps even enable bad politicians to do bad things.
Let’s use Ohio and Florida for this case study.
Term-Limited Republicans in Ohio Are Pushing for Gun Control
In 1992, voters in Ohio approved Amendment 3, a ballot initiative that created term limits for state lawmakers.
Amendment 3 forbids state senators from serving more than two successive terms of four years and forbids state representatives from serving more than four successive terms of two years.
After more than two decades of term limits, Ohio must be the least corrupt state in the country with no career politicians, right?
One study concludes that Ohio is the seventh most corrupt state in the U.S.
The Center for Public Integrity gave Ohio a “D” grade on its 2015 State Integrity Report.
Not only did term limits not do what proponents claimed they would, these limits have also made it more difficult for the grassroots to hold politicians accountable for their votes.
The recent push for gun control in the Buckeye State is one of the clearest examples of how term-limited politicians reject the will of their constituents.
Term-limited Republican State Sen. Peggy Lehner is one of the most vocal advocates for gun control today. Lehner has aligned herself with Democrats Cecil Thomas and Sandra Williams to introduce legislation ranging from Universal Gun Registration to “Red Flag” Gun Confiscation.
Republican State Sen. Bill Coley, Chairman of the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee, held hearings on eight different gun control bills in the last couple weeks.
Coley is also term-limited and has expressed support for Gov. Mike DeWine’s version of gun control.
In the other chamber, Speaker of the House Larry Householder appears to be standing firm for the Second Amendment. It is no coincidence that Householder is up for reelection in 2020, when voters will surely consider his record on gun rights.
Term-Limited Republicans in Florida Passed Gun Control
As in Ohio, Florida voters approved a ballot initiative in 1992 that enacted legislative term limits restricting state senators to two, four-year terms and state representatives to four, two-year terms.
In the study mentioned above, Florida ranked tenth on the list of most corrupt states, and the Center for Public Integrity gave Florida a “D” for state integrity as well.
To make matters worse, Republican Senate President Bill Galvano led the crusade for gun control after the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida. Galvano, who is term-limited and knew he wouldn’t have to face the voters again, drafted and rammed through the largest gun control expansion in Florida history.
Republican State Sen. Anitere Flores from Miami has spent her last term in office serving as the designated assassin of all things pro-gun.
But then there is Republican Sen. George Gainer who told me to my face that he was going to vote for Galvano’s gun control legislation in 2018. When his constituents began to overwhelm Gainer and his staff with phone calls demanding a “no” vote, he ultimately complied.
Gainer’s change of heart was only possible because he knew he was going to run for office again, and his conservative district is unlikely to vote for someone who supports gun control.
Don’t just take my word for it. Respected journalist Bill Cotterell wrote in this 2014 article:
Term limits were supposed to show the politicians who’s boss, to give us “citizen legislators” who would govern for a while and then go home and live under the laws they imposed on us. True, there had been some dead wood in the Legislature, a few old warhorses who spent 20 or 30 years catering to special interests, many of whom who hadn’t had an original idea since Coke was a nickel and cars had tailfins.
But those fossils were pretty rare. All term limits did was to replace them with younger ones who cater to special interests for only eight to 16 years, max.
Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel, a self-proclaimed believer in term limits, wrote an op-ed about how term limits have failed in Florida.
While I don’t agree with everything he had to say, Maxwell was spot-on when he wrote, “The real issue is the caliber of people we elect. If we send spineless weenies to Tallahassee or Washington, it doesn’t matter whether they’re there for four years or 40 … they’re still spineless weenies.”
Then How Do We Stop Politicians?
The good thing about having “spineless weenies” in office is that they can be influenced.
Now, you may be thinking, “Isn’t that the problem??”
No, the problem is not that politicians can be influenced. The problem is that politicians are being influenced by the wrong people.
We as conservatives often elect people then trust them to do what they said because that’s what we would do. Unfortunately, that’s not how politicians actually behave.
Politicians can be influenced, just like the rest of us, in two ways: pleasure or pain.
Bad politicians can only be stopped from doing bad things if grassroots activists are able to inflict political pain, such as mobilizing angry voters.
But political pain is only effective if activists can show the politician that his chances of reelection will be severely diminished if he does bad things.
This isn’t an easy thing to do, but our government wasn’t designed for things to be done easily.
Abolitionist Wendell Phillips explained well what needs to be done to preserve liberty in America:
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. The living sap of today outgrows the dead rind of yesterday. The hand entrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”
Term limits do not actually limit corruption or meet expectations in any way. In reality, term limits only limit the ability of grassroots activists to hold politicians accountable for their votes and actions.
To learn more about how to hold politicians accountable for their anti-gun or anti-conservative actions, check out the Foundation for Applied Conservative Leadership (FACL).
The Foundation for Applied Conservative Leadership empowers freedom-loving patriots to take back their liberties through political training and mentoring.
D.J. Parten is the Executive Director of Florida Gun Rights and the Southeast Regional Director for the National Association for Gun Rights.