Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Karma and Term Limits

"Karma" is an eastern mystical term which means, in our vernacular "what goes around comes around". I am more into Western mysticism myself, where the same thought is expressed in passages from scripture such as "He who digs a pit may fall into it" and "As a man sows, so also shall he reap." It seems that both eastern and western religions, as well as popular culture, all point to the same universal truth. And this universal truth applies very well to our current debate, perhaps hysteria would be a better way to put as describing the attitude of some public officials, over the proposed term limits amendment.

In 2014 the legislature referred a deceptively titled "ethics" amendment to the voters. It claimed to "establish" term limits but in fact greatly weakened existing term limits law. Not that that was the only thing wrong with the so-called "ethics" amendment. It contained hidden language that could be used to have a chilling effect on anyone who wanted to run for a large office as an independent.

It even included rules which, if legislators were caught mis-appropriating campaign contributions, gave them thirty days to pay back what they stole before the ethics commission could censure them! Yep, that's right (or wrong). If they get caught stealing, they have 30 days to pay it back before they can be penalized for stealing! These things don't enumerate all of my objections to that so-called "ethics" bill, but let's just say it was the most unethical "ethics" bill in my lifetime and leave it at that. The guy who helped write and co-sponsored the "ethics" amendment that weakened our previous term-limits laws, Jon Woods, is out of the Senate and now faces up to twenty years in prison for taking bribes.

In addition to all of that, the two Senators most determined to do something about the huge corruption involving Arkansas Works, Bryan King and Linda Collins-Smith, were recently narrowly defeated in Republican Senate primaries by opponents who were heavily backed by the Governor, other legislators, and enormous sums of money from some of the same special interests which are doing the looting. Conduit for Action had a good, though not complete, roundup of the corruption. Basically many of these people who are crying about how terrible it will be if we term-limit them out are the same ones who either helped, were blithely unaware, or did nothing while the establishment drove out the most fiscally honest remaining members from their ranks.

I spoke with Tim Jacob, who has long been prominently associated with the Term Limits movement. He said "they see themselves as indispensable people". And its true. Despite the fact that the legislature is dripping in corruption and the FBI has to clean house for us because it seems we can't or won't clean our own, they really think it would be a tremendous disaster if we showed them the door early. They don't just see themselves as "the good guys". They see them selves as indispensable people. There will always be a small coterie of "political groupies" who flatter office holders, but this is so far out of touch with the way most people see them as to be ridiculous.

Normal people sense something is wrong, but they don't see an outlet. They don't see a way to fix it, so they are frustrated. Indeed the legislators don't want there to be a way to fix it. They can't even understand why someone would want an alternative to their continued essentially one-party rule. They continue to see themselves as the indispensable good guys. This despite the fact that history shows us that one-party political rule ends in corruption every time, without exception. It was true when the Democrats were that party and they have become hopelessly corrupt and out of touch and now that the Republicans are that party they are going the same route while doing everything in their power to eliminate any way that people have to check that natural progression.

They made ballot initiatives much harder to pull off. They passed laws which make it harder for people to run as independents, including one I have been fighting them on in court for the last five years. It's already been ruled unconstitutional four times but they are still fighting and delaying as much as possible to keep it on the books. And have doubled down by adding more barriers to independents. They have consistently acted in their own interests to tamp down on competition, extend their time in power via deception, and block all efforts to get around them. All while maintaining a posture of self-righteous indignation toward those dissatisfied with their rule. Now people see a way to express their frustration and it looks like they are going to do it. Conduit for Action calls it "payback" from the voters.

Senator Alan Clark has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the Term Limits proposal. They have him front and center because he is seen as one of the more respectable members, especially with his important work pushing back against DHS on family separation. His Facebook feed, until recently, was a blizzard of red herring arguments and flawed analogies against the Term Limits proposal. He imagines several scenarios where a good employee is being forced out. This is the "indispensable person" argument I referenced above. A better analogy would be one where you have employees who have found a way to legally insulate themselves from being replaced even though you have a large stock of good potential replacements available who have not yet been corrupted by the system.

In that situation the rational thing to do is to go for term limits to move out the bad apples. Even though its a shame the good ones have to go as well, your odds of getting a good replacement are decent, and it gets rid of the bad ones and gives those good replacements a chance to get in there. Its the best worst option given that all of them have worked and schemed to make it hard to reform the party from the inside and almost impossible to go around it from the outside.

Clark's second main complaint is that the legislative branch could not push back against the executive as well with shorter term limits. The problem with that is that under one-party rule they don't anyway. The legislature has been supine whenever the Governor snaps his fingers. He's already run off the main ones who weren't subservient to him. If the legislature is going to march in lock-step with the Governor who is of their party then they have forfeited the argument that they need more time in office to more effectively push back against the executive branch. Again, Karma. They are responsible for the fervor behind the term limits proposal.

Look, I don't see term limits as a Panacea. In a perfect world they would even be a bad option because we would have very open access to the ballot. In a perfect world the executive would not interfere with elections for the legislative branch- Governor and special interest money from outside the state would not jump into Republican primaries and engineer the defeat of any legislator who bucked him on the money. In a perfect world we would have run-offs in November so that third parties and independents could be considered by the voters without fear of "splitting the vote" and electing their least-preferred candidate. In a perfect world we would have four or five viable candidates for every legislative seat whenever a legislator was doing a less-than-stellar job. But we don't live in a perfect world. We live in this one, where the people who make the rules have twisted them and are highly resistant to real reform. In this world, I'll be voting for the Term Limits Proposal.


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