Politicians Should Be Limited to 50 Years in Office

The Paul Simon Institute for Public Policy at Southern Illinois University has released a poll revealing that voters want term limits:     

Exactly three-fourths (75 percent) of the voters favored term limits for legislators. They support five consecutive two-year terms for state representatives and three consecutive four-year terms for state senators. Only 19.4 percent opposed the term limits proposal.

In the October 2010 poll, 80 percent favored term limits for state legislators while 14.8 percent opposed or strongly opposed. “That 2010 was an election year, and that there was much dissatisfaction and talk of term limits, may have accounted for the slightly higher support last year compared to this year,” said Institute Visiting Professor John Jackson. “This year the enthusiasm for term limits has declined marginally, but it is still quite strong.”

I agree that Illinois politicians should be term-limited, but the terms suggested are too short. I think 50 years is a fairer figure. Think of the political wisdom and experience that 10-year term limits would cost us. If Ald. Edward Burke had been limited to a decade in office, he would have been out of a job by 1979. Burke would not have been around to protect Chicagoans from the depredations of Mayor Harold Washington. Nor would he have had the time to accumulate the $8 million political action campaign fund which he uses to enlighten voters about candidates who best serve their interests. And since a 10-year term limit would also have limited Burke’s tenure on the Cook County Democratic Party’s judicial slating board, the Illinois Supreme Court would have been robbed of the talents of Burke’s wife, Justice Anne.

Or consider Michael Madigan, who was elected to the state House in 1970 and became speaker in 1982. Had Madigan been limited to 10 years, he might never have reached the top. If he had, it would have been a short speakership, followed by retirement to a law practice in Chicago. Madigan would never have become chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, allowing him to collect campaign contributions in a single fund, and distribute them to legislators who appreciate his wisdom. And, of course, we would never known that the attorney most qualified to run the state’s law enforcement office was his own stepdaughter, Lisa.

Let’s not forget, though, that the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute is named after a career politician who held office almost continuously for 42 years, from 1955 to 1997. And who, like Burke and Madigan, passed his political legacy on to a family member. Simon’s daughter, Sheila, was named the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor by party bosses after the primary winner was forced to withdraw. If dad hadn’t been allowed to spend more than four decades building the Simon name, it’s doubtful daughter would have been well-known enough to win the nod.

That’s why these guys need at least 50 years. It takes that long to prepare things for the next generation.   

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