There is some very good news from this session: the first meaningful step in the effort to reverse term limits was unexpectedly and overwhelmingly defeated!
Frequent readers of these articles will know my position regarding term limits. They are a vital reform that reinforces the concept that public service should be a temporary time during which an individual makes a sacrifice on behalf of his community. Public service should never be a “career” in which a person spends a lifetime as a politician.
I have repeatedly seen the toxic outcome wrought by the prolonged exposure to the effects of power — either real or perceived. Many who are given power eventually succumb, at least in part, to the various co-opting elements that target such political offices.
The corrupting influence of power is no respecter of partisan politics. It corrupts both Republican and Democrats at all levels of government, from local to national.
Term limits change this dynamic, limit the amount of exposure elected officials have to the corrupting influence of power, and return many would-be career politicians to the real world.
My front row observations of the legislative process have greatly reinforced my belief in the importance of term limits, and I enjoyed the opportunity a few years ago to be the House author of the proposal to place a term limit of two terms upon statewide elected officials. That proposal was approved by the Legislature and the people of Oklahoma during the 2010 general election.
Since that time, however, it appears that a significant number of Oklahoma’s elected officials would like to see term limits repealed. Earlier this year, the Senate approved what I believe to be the first step in an effort that would potentially lead to a significant liberalization of term limits.
The Senate’s plan lifted the term limit on statewide officials from two to three terms. It would have needed to be approved by the voters in this November’s election.
This public referendum created an opportunity for the Legislature. Currently, legislators are too tepid to propose the lifting of legislative term limits. Had the Senate’s plan to change statewide official term limits been approved by the voters, legislators could have used this seeming shift in public sentiment to advance the liberalization of legislative term limits without appearing too self serving. As early as next year, the proposal to lift legislative term limits would likely have been an item of serious consideration.
Following the Senate’s approval of the plan, conventional wisdom suggested that it would be successful. However, in a late night vote on April 21, the proposal was defeated by a 56 – 14 margin. I believe the effort to reverse term limits in Oklahoma was likely set back several years by this single vote.
This was one of the best outcomes from this legislative session.
Unfortunately, there is a note of caution. 36 House members were “excused” from the vote. This means that 40% of the House either voted for the plan or did not vote. The voters are well advised to stay on guard for future efforts to either lift or do away with term limits. I have no doubt these attempts are inevitable.
Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.