by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
Since the end of the legislative session, more Missourians have been questioning the wisdom of the term-limits law that was passed in 1992. Back then, term limits were heralded as the way to make elections competitive and give those who wanted to run for office a fighting chance against entrenched politicians.
But while term limits have done little to reduce the advantages of incumbency — dislodging an incumbent is just as hard and more expensive than it ever was — they have succeeded in increasing the power of capital city lobbyists. Politicians, citizen groups and newspapers across Missouri are starting to ask whether term limits are delivering on their promise or not.
Any re-examination of our experiment with term limits is bound to draw the attention of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Term Limits organization. Last week, Jeremy Johnson, the U.S. Term Limits director of state government affairs, said in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article that he was “prepared to run TV and radio ads and ‘do whatever it takes’ to keep Missouri’s legislative term limits in place.”
Claiming to be “one of the largest grass-roots movements in American history,” this organization goes from state to state testifying, lobbying and pontificating about the great benefits of term limits. U.S. Term Limits, however, has no interest in leveling the political playing field by supporting public financing of elections, free media time for candidates or any other type of campaign finance reform that would actually reduce the advantages of incumbency. In fact, their main goal seems to be to make sure that races for the General Assembly are based on one criterion: Money. Or, special interest money, to be exact.
You see, U.S. Term Limits is not the grass-roots organization that it makes itself out to be. It is yet another “Astroturf” organization funded almost entirely by billionaire Howie Rich, a real estate tycoon from New York who has been trying to get states to enact his radical ideas for property rights, education spending and state funding for the past 20 years or so.
When he first started proposing his radical ideas to state legislatures, Rich had a hard time getting anyone to listen to his hired lobbyists about how states needed to change their governments to suit Rich’s sensibilities. Instead of reconsidering the wisdom of his proposals, it…