When Governor Rick Scott rolled out the first television ad in his campaign for U.S. Senate in April, it centered entirely on his desire to bring 12-year term limits to Congress. Meanwhile, this week saw the retirement of Senate President Joe Negron who says he is a “big believer in term limits.” The conversation has even reached the Constitution Revision Commission, with a proposal that would limit school board members to 8-year terms.
Florida Public Radio’s Ryan Dailey recently talked with Professor Daniel Smith, Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Florida to talk about why the conversation about term limits is bubbling up in every level of Florida politics.
RD: From my understanding, term limits date back as far as Ancient Greece. It sure seems like, based on that, that’s been a concern of the public since the genesis of politics itself. I guess that makes the big question, do term limits work?
DS: “There’s certainly been a longstanding tradition, historically, but also a popular notion to put limits on the length of terms of our elected officials at the state as well as the federal level. The court has differed, however, on whether or not citizens could do that – changing the law with respect to the U.S Constitution.”
RD: Is the popularity behind that idea, is that to sort of stave off corruption? Or, why is it that so many people back term limits?
DS: “I think you have to sometimes differentiate between the good governance side of things in principle, versus the pure, partisan power play that is often behind many of these good governance movements. You asked about whether or not they actually seem to work, and this idea about rooting out corruption in long-term lawmakers. You’ve certainly seen evidence of that in places like New York and New Jersey that don’t have term limits on their state lawmakers.
“But, one would be hard-pressed not to be able to come up with lots of examples of corruption in states that do have term limits. So, I don’t necessarily think it’s going to root out corruption in our state capitals … nor am I sure that it actually leads to greater accountability.”
RD: As I‘m sure you know, Gov. Rick Scott has made news lately, he wants to implement a 12-year term limit for members of Congress. In your estimation, what chance does a Rick Scott have to make good on bringing term limits to Congress.
DS: “He has no chance of making that happen if he is elected to congress. The court has already ruled on this, the Supreme Court. It does make good political theater and good rhetoric. Again, Floridians now 25 years ago, voted very affirmatively to do what he is saying needs to be done.
“Of course the easiest way to have term limits is just not to run for office again. Just step down after one term of six years as U.S. senator or two terms, 12 years as U.S Senator. That would be the easiest way. But of course, most members don’t do that.”
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