Term Limits: Some Failure

Out of the 15 states that limit legislative terms, 10 rank near the top in economic competitive- ness among the 50 states. Colorado, one of the first to enact term limits back in 1990, ranks 7th. If that's what Denver Post columnist Dan Haley calls policy failure, let's have more of it. Haley's piece on May 4, "Term limits have failed," doesn't prove its case. He says the eight & out rule for Colorado's state senators and representatives "hasn't made our government by the people more efficient and effective," but gives no examples to support that.

I'd argue, to the contrary, that firm restraints on government growth and activism, imposed by the people in the late '80s and early '90s -- the 120-day legislative session, term limits, and tax limits under TABOR -- have done much to help the state as a whole grow and prosper ever since.

Economists Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, writing in the "Rich States, Poor States" survey at ALEC.org, rate the bullish or bearish outlook of each state according to its fiscal, regulatory, and labor policies. States in the top half of the class where term limits don't seem to spell failure include...

Arizona #2, South Dakota #3, Colorado #7, Nevada #11, Oklahoma #13, Florida #14, Arkansas #15, Michigan #16, Missouri #17, and Louisiana #21.

I'm not suggesting term limits are either a necessary or a sufficient condition for achieving a strong economic outlook. Obviously the rest of the top-rated states got there without term limits. And term-limited states in the bottom half of the class include Montana #33, Nebraska #34, California #41, Maine #44, and Ohio #47.

I'm just saying Dan is going to have to show me some evidence that term-limited states are necessarily worse governed, because on the evidence so far it appears they may be somewhat better governed.

Maybe it's matter of what we think government should do. Many of us believe it should stay off our backs and out of our pockets. By that measure, the Haley concern that too little is being done to "bridge partisan tensions" and that "statehouses with term limits are growing... less powerful" is no concern at all.

His source for the latter quote, the National Conference of State Legislatures, being a trade association for legislative careerists, naturally dislikes term limits. To which again, some us merely say: too bad for them.

Give NCSL credit, though; their research is generally professional, thorough, and accurate. Here's their overview on the factual status (not the subjective evaluation) of term limits today.

The 15 states that do have them, a number that my friend Dan suggests is paltry and embarrassing, should in my opinion be considered the fortunate few.