Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Term Limits

The WSJ reports on the uncertainty involving how to craft any term limits referendum on this fall's ballot-with the issue revolving around whether or not to grandfather the existing council members: "Even if New York City voters decide in November to restore a law barring elected officials from serving more than two consecutive four-year terms, a majority of the City Council may not have to abide by the voters' wishes. The Charter Revision Commission, the panel appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to review the city constitution, is considering a so-called grandfather clause that would allow all incumbents to serve three terms."

This all has a decided post coital effect for us-that is, since it was the voter who already has gotten screwed, this discussion lacks any real passion for us-but limiting everyone to two terms, especially for those freshmen members who voted for the extension, would have a certain poetic justice: "The prospect of giving special dispensation to incumbents has fostered consternation among some commission members. Hope Cohen, a member of the commission, said she opposes term limits but believes voters have the right to decide if they want to return to a limit of two terms. If the voters choose a two-term cap, she said, the law should be effective immediately."

Especially since it was the council that acted in its own self interest to extend the terms for themselves-something that Council member Garodnick recognizes, at least partially: "Council Member Dan Garodnick, who voted against the term-limit extension in 2008 and is in his second term, said he, too, supports the grandfather clause. "For the purposes of having some continuity, I think rules like this should always been done prospectively," he said. "That's how it should have been done two years ago, and that's how it should be done now."

But, as the good attorney that he is, Garodnick is well aware of the fruit of the poisonous tree argument-and this original sinning on extending terms creates a different moral calculus in our view. That being said, the dirty deed has already been done, and there are enough incumbents like Garodnick on the council who we would welcome for a third go-around-even if the moral theory of all this has been rendered asunder already.

We do, however, love the dancing feet of the Speaker-who knew? As she told the WSJ: "When the mayor proposed extending term limits from two to three terms, he requested this for all city elected officials then serving, including himself, the borough presidents, the council members," said Ms. Quinn, a potential 2013 mayoral candidate. "Therefore," she said, "it is only appropriate that this includes elected officials who were freshmen at the time."

This has all of the moral character of the old, "one lies, and the other swears to it." Pointing to the juridical authority of the original sinner-especially by his main accomplice-is the kind of obtuseness and hubris that will come back to haunt the city's first lady of politics in 2013. But the entire debate has lost any of its original steam, since the main actor-hizzoner-is no longer looking to take any additional curtain calls; at least we hope not.

What we have learned in over thirty years of political involvement, is that the arrogance of power will never be limited by self restraint; and term limits is a good method for preventing political sclerosis-just take a look at the forty year run of one Charles Rangel. That being said, it is not only the impossible-to-remove incumbency that threatens us, but the growing statist bureaucracy as well. If allowed to flourish, these civil servants will amass as much undemocratic power as any 40 year incumbent.

So, while we look to limit the political class's arrogance of power, we need to remember that the class is not restricted to those who have been elected-and it is the unseen and the unelected power barons of the state governmental machinery that are an even greater danger to the future health-and even viability-of our democratic system.