Ryne started things off (and I'll give him the benefit of fancy italics):
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R: I've always been generally supportive of term limits. Various arguments can certainly be made in favor of term limits, of course; Jesse Helms, Ted Kennedy and Strom Thurmond spring immediately to mind at the Capitol Hill level.
But let me submit the following hypothetical to you. You're a resident , as I am, of a rural Congressional or State legislative district that is mostly rural and "middle class" (at best). You and other voters like you elect a representative who carries the fight from your district to the halls of Lincoln or Washington. That person creates jobs. That person brings home state/federal funding for worthwhile projects. Why on Earth would you want to term limit such a person?
I suppose that the reason you vote for term limits, given the following hypothetical, is because no one happens to be satisfying you, the voter, by carrying the fight to Lincoln or Washington. Situations aren't improving. We're merely voting for the same old, same old, year in and year out.
The other head of the coin is that if the residents of a District want to more or less elect someone to serve them for life, why not? Why should I care if the fine folks in District 11 choose to keep Ernie Chambers in office from now until Doomsday?
At the same time, you have to remember that the term limit amendment also reflects the "will of the people," and the irony of the flagrant disregard for those voters by some of our elected officials isn't lost on me either.
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K: You fail to mention that which is most objectionable about these term limits - they are fundamentally undemocratic.
While "the people" may have voted for them, it is an entirely legitimate question whether 56% of voters in 2000 should be able to tell 100% of voters in 2006 and beyond who they CAN NOT vote for - especially when there has always been the recourse of voting for alternative candidates to the incumbent in the first place.
Of course, term limits in the executive branch are also, in a sense, undemocratic, but these are much longer established and reflect the anti-authoritarian principles and precautions on which this nation was founded. Risk of monarchy (or aristocracy) from the legislative branch is of a much different, lesser sort...particularly when a strong legislature is another protection against the executive exercising too much power.
Term limits in the legislature (state or federal) undoubtedly reduce its stature, standing, and experience-levels. As the branch most responsible and closest to the citizenry, the true power of the people in our government is therby weakened. For this reason, legislative term limits are terrible public policy and raise fundamental issues of constitutionality even when "the people" foolishly embed them in a state's constitution.
What is a truer reflection of the will of the people - a vote in 2000 funded by ideological extremists from outside of Nebraska or a supposed vote in 2006 choosing an incumbent such as Dennis Byars over anyone who opposes him? One of these voices is going to be silenced, regardless. Promoting open ballots without term limits is the more democratic solution because the option is ALWAYS there to "throw the bastards out."
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R: Yes, term limits may be viewed as fundamentally undemocratic. All of the points that you make are completely valid, and I do agree, in part, that simply going to the polls every two, four, or six years ought to offer a recourse to the voter.
These are all things that I grapple with when trying to decide whether or not I support term limits.
However, more and more states, counties and municipalities are adopting term limits as a way to prevent corruption before it starts, reduce the abuse of power and encourage participation by those who want to be involved.
Another popular catchphrase floating around out there from a group supporting term limits is "Citizen Legislators, Not Career Politicians." I think that one speaks for itself.
One of the biggest obstacles in getting people to participate in their civic duty to vote is that there is a perception that "my vote doesn't count." After all, if you do not like Ted Kennedy or Ernie Chambers, what good is going to do you to go and vote against them? They're going to win anyway. In fact, career politicians from the legislative branch all the way down to our municipalities have served for entire generations. No qualified, honorable candidates run against them and many self-respecting citizens refuse to get involved in what they see as a lost cause.
While the option to "throw the bastards out" may be there in theory, it seems as though it fails when in practice.
While it's undoubtedly true that open ballots would be the best way to handle career politicans, the career politicians reman. I'll admit that I have no idea what the Founders would have thought of, say, Strom Thurmond, but surely it flies in the face of an open, participatory government of the people and by the people.
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K: The whole "Citizen legislators vs. Career Politicians" thing is just a good campaign slogan gone over-board. There's absolutely nothing wrong with "career politicians" so long as they remain responsive and accountable to voters.
The whole argument for legislative term limits is an argument that democracy doesn't work. People are "too stupid" to vote the way they should on candidates, so we have to trick them into changing the rules and foregoing their right to vote for whomever they choose....all by making boogeymen of those we once considered public servants.
Under your "my vote doesn't count" theory, the Republican Party should be banned in Nebraska because it has such a registration advantage that Democrats and Independents have no reasonable reason to vote.....EXCEPT THIS IS A DEMOCRACY AND WE PUT OUR FAITH IN THE PEOPLE. That means we believe people can change their minds. We believe that with hard work and perseverance a bad politician will get beat. If that's not true, democracy has a problem that no term limit can repair.
Just because so few people are willing to put in the work and make the leap of faith that is a political campaign doesn't mean we should impose limits on our freedoms. Nor should we necessarily even be able to do so - many rights have been held as inalienable under the U.S. Constitution.
None of this means we shouldn't do something to alleviate the institutional advantages of incumbency, but campaign finance reform has always been the more reasonable, more democratic alternative to these ill-conceived and fundamentally cynical term limits.
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Well, it's not quite Lincoln-Douglass, but a little polite debate on these matters is always enjoyable....and hopefully - sometimes - a little good can even come of it.
If anyone has anything to add, please feel free to do so. Both Ryne and I are always appreciative of our fellow Nebraskans' (or really anyones') opinions.