March 11, 2011

Term Limits Bite Us in the Ass

It has taken a decade, but the damage to our state from term limits has now fully taken root.

Term limits started as a well-intentioned but incredibly naive idea that government works best when run by amateurs. Voters with minimal knowledge of governing (garnered mostly from superficial general news coverage) figured that the few examples of ineffective, corrupt or morally bankrupt elected officials represented the norm. Thus, they voted to change the entire system.

The irony was that it was approved during the administration of John Engler, arguably the most effective Governor in state history. Engler was the quintessential career politician: elected to the state House at the age of 21, serving for two decades in the Legislature before becoming Governor.

We lost the benefit of having legislators who understood the process and complex issues involved in leading a $40-billion enterprise, people like Bobby Crim, Lynn Jondahl, Dave Hollister, Harry Gsst, Bill Ryan, Paul Hillegonds and dozens of others who served with distinction for 10-to-25 years.

Term limits took hold in the Granholm years. For the first time, we had a Governor and legislative leaders who had minimal (or no) experience in political leadership. Combined with split control of the Legislature, it led to eight years of stalemates, confrontation and bickering which put a premium on short-term political advantage and zero premium on long-term policy. They were unprepared to deal with the fiscal crisis imposed on Michigan by national and world economic forces.

Now we have a government trying to deal with the impact of continued international and national economic turmoil, and it is run by amateurs:

• Governor Rick Snyder, with no government experience at any level
• Speaker Jace Balger, in his third year as a legislator after four years as a county commissioner
* Senate Majority leader Randy Richardville, in his first Senate term after four years in the state House

(Snyder has the additional disadvantage of having no core constituency. He won the Republican nomination only because three other candidates divided up the core conservative GOP vote, and won the general election because it was a year in which just about any Republican was preordained to win.)

All three are very smart people. But none of them has the knowledge of leadership in a political setting that can only be gained with time. And none of them has had the time to build the personal relationships that lead to trust, something critical in a political setting. (Just look at the dysfunctional Wisconsin government!)

More than half of the House members are rookies; 30 of the 38 Senate members are in their first term.

It's on-the-job training for the leaders of a $40-billion enterprise. What business would survive with such a poorly prepared leadership team? How would you like having our war in Afghanistan being run by someone with four years Army experience, instead of career soldier David Petraeus?

A veteran local school district official said it best when he lamented that there was nobody in the Legislature who actually understood school finance. He was lamenting the fact that most legislators wanted to punish school districts for maintaining rainy day funds, something any business management consultant will tell you is smart management.

We have well meaning, intelligent, motivated people making decisions on issues about which they know little or nothing, and it is a very steep learning curve. Instead of having the facts to make reasoned decisions, they are forced to make "gut" judgements based on truthiness.

I wouldn't choose a plumber on that basis. Why should we use that as the standard for out government leaders?

(I run into it with Facebook friends all the time. They will make a political statement that runs contrary to the state of U.S. Constitution not because they are anarchists, but because they don't know better.)

No government system is perfect or even close to it. But making mandatory ignorance a prerequisite for being elected is a guarantee that the results will be bad.

1 comment:

  1. sounds like a good time to throw my hat into the ring