Term Limits for Elected Officials

The editorial assumes that placing limits on the number of terms an elected office-holder may serve is designed to attack official corruption and concludes that the public is entirely competent to take care of this by voting the rascals out.

On the contrary, a limit of two or three terms (after which the office holder must give up the office for at least one term) has little to do with fighting corruption. Many politicians who have served long periods are unquestionably honest. It has everything to do with an opportunity for new blood to be involved in government.

Today, we see what amounts to a political oligarchy in our state legislature. Incumbents who wish to remain in office are almost invariably reelected. In 1986, not one incumbent in either the primary or general election was defeated by a challenger. The reason is simple. Incumbents garner the great bulk of all campaign contributions and have increasingly outspent their challengers by wide margins. In 1986, state assembly incumbents outspent challengers by 30-to-1. In the state senate, the incumbent advantage was an astronomical 62-to-1. The story is similar (though not quite so dramatic) in local elections around the state: for example, between 1981 and 1986, incumbent Los Angeles County supervisors outspent their opponents on average 9-to-1.

Are we satisfied to have a system that keeps potential new leaders out of the political arena unless they are possessed of great personal wealth, or unless an incumbent chooses to give up his or her seat? If not, reasonable term limits deserve favorable consideration by the voters.



Los Angeles