On Nov. 17, the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee took up the Term Limits Convention bill (SM630). This is the bill that calls for a national amendment convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution in order to enact Congressional term limits.
It started out fine but quickly went awry as the vice chair of the committee, Republican John Legg, suggested that the term limits convention may be part of a conspiracy to overthrow the constitution. He was followed by Sen. Jeff Clemens, a South Florida Democrat who has never shown any love for the second amendment, who asked if perhaps our right to bear arms could be threatened by consideration of Congressional term limits. What?
How the hearing took this this sour and darkly comical turn is unclear, but what is certain was that some senators wanted to talk about anything else that afternoon except for term limits. Perhaps the bipartisan popularity of the successful political reform makes it impossible for would-be professional politicians to tackle it in a straightforward manner. They have to obfuscate, confuse, baffle and confound to somehow malign a very simple issue that voters both understand and have long and positive experience with.
Just to be clear: A “convention to propose amendments” under Article V has no power whatever to make or change laws. According to Article V, it “shall” be convened upon the official calls of 2/3 (or 34) of the states. At the convention, delegates chosen and sent by the states can craft and suggest an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That’s it. To become law, three quarters (38) of the states have to ratify the amendment.
Sen. Joe Negron was about to suggest a tabling of the issue for a saner day, when Sen, Geraldine Thompson announced she intended to support the bill and wanted a vote. She got it, and SM630 passed its first Senate committee 5-4.
That Sen. Thompson, a Democrat, would save the day should not be surprising. Polling (Gallup 2013) shows that some 75% of Americans support Congressional term limits, including 65% of Democrats and 79% of independents.
Most special interests are not ideological but instead purely self-interested, representing corporations, professional organizations and unions that seek special favors and benefits from lawmakers and are willing to pay for them one way or another. Protecting individual Americans from corporate exploitation is a central message of Democratic campaign rhetoric. Term limits regularly sever the cozy relationships between special interest lobbyists and decision-makers and greatly reduce their influence.
There is also a self-interested — and completely legitimate — component of Florida Democratic support for term limits that is, currently, unique to the party. Florida (like some other Southern states) was once solidly blue and started to turn Republican long before that change was reflected in the legislature, as the power of incumbency prevented rotation in office and blocked the changes in the voters views to be expressed. The enactment of term limits speeded up the transition because it improved representation of the people through open seats, competitive elections and the introduction of new people and ideas.
Now that the Republicans are in a solid majority in Tallahassee, nearly every session a GOP bill to lengthen and weaken term limits is introduced in order to thwart electoral competition and protect their position. But when and if the pendulum swings back to the blue among the electorate, it will be the fluidity that comes with term limits that will ensure the voters’ will is reflected in a timely manner — not a generation later.
With her timely vote for term limits, Sen. Thompson struck a blow for the voters, her country and her party.