Howard Rich's Blog

October 30, 2008

Op-Ed by Howard Rich in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

Filed under: Uncategorized — howierich @ 3:35 pm
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Guest Column: Term limits bring fairness to government

Too often, more “experience” in office means corruption. Limiting that would give the disenfranchised a greater voice in public policy.

Memphis voters have an opportunity next week to join dozens of other state and municipal governments across the country in enacting term limits for the mayor, City Court clerk and City Council.

A “yes” vote for the Memphis Charter Commission’s Referendum No. 1, however, is about much more than just setting a limit of two consecutive four-year terms for the elected officials who hold these positions of public trust.

It’s about answering a much more important question: Who’s in charge — the people or politicians?

It’s also about making sure that disenfranchised communities have a true voice in the political process — a voice that represents their needs, not those of political donors and wealthy special interests.

Government in this country is built on the idea that authority belongs to individual citizens, which means that the people’s business ought to always be conducted in the people’s best interests.That means when government contracts are being handed out, all qualified companies should have a fair chance at getting public business, not just companies that donate to the re-election campaigns of entrenched politicians or hold cocktail parties at expensive restaurants in their honor.

Sadly, that almost never happens these days.

In fact, it seems the longer politicians are in office, the more likely they are to rip us off for their own benefit — rewarding the donors who funded their campaigns and the special interests who keep them in power rather than the people they should be serving.

Politicians like to brag about the value of their “experience,” but in far too many governments, political “experience” is really another word for corruption.

That’s why term limits are so popular — and so effective.

Instead of counting on politicians to do the right thing, term limits force them to represent the people instead of advancing their own careers.

Part of a broader set of anti-corruption and accountability reforms offered by the City of Memphis Charter Commission, a “yes” vote on Referendum No. 1 is about restoring a system of checks and balances that politicians have thrown decidedly out of balance.

It’s about applying the same term limits for Memphis city officials that have been in place for Shelby County commissioners since voters first approved them in 1994.

It’s also about bringing fresh ideas, new solutions, more competitive elections and more diverse representation to government — and doing so in a way that affects all political parties equally.

But most important, it’s about reminding career politicians that no matter how “experienced” or “important” they may think they are, no elected official’s political aspirations will ever be more important than serving the greater good.

Memphis voters have an opportunity on Tuesday to send precisely that message, and to reclaim their city government for the people it was created to serve in the first place.

Everyone’s community deserves fairness and openness in how government addresses their needs, which is exactly what term limits will bring to Memphis.

Howard Rich is chairman of the Fairfax, Va., advocacy group U.S. Term Limits.

Click here to read Howie Rich‘s Op-Ed on the Memphis Commercial Appeal Website.

and of course, don’t foget to visit Howie Rich dot net.



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