HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
November 13, 2006, Herald Journal

Government: less is more


Now that the mid-term election is behind us, we have about a week before the 2008 campaign begins.

During this brief respite, while the memory of non-stop mudslinging and the barrage of irritating political ads are still fresh in our minds, we might do well to consider the benefits of limited government.

When we speak of limited government, we often refer to the scope of government, but for a moment, let us consider limits to the process of government.

We need to implement sensible campaign limits. Currently, campaigns begin almost immediately after the previous election. They may not be official at this point, but political posturing and grooming of candidates for 2008 began even before the 2006 general election.

Limiting campaigns to, say, three months, would revitalize the process.

If a candidate can’t communicate his position in that amount of time, he obviously doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Long campaigns tend to bore voters, who then tune out, and ignore the process.

Long campaigns also cost a lot of money and demand a huge commitment of time, effectively eliminating most potential candidates, at least those who have to work for a living.

That brings us to the next recommendation: spending limits.

The cost of running for office has become astronomical.

This not only eliminates candidates who are not already wealthy, and who do not have the funding of a major political machine behind them, it also favors candidates who are good at throwing money around.

This is bad news for taxpayers.

Imposing tighter spending limits could level the playing field, and give more citizens a realistic opportunity to run for office.

A logical part of this process would be to limit the amount of political advertising a candidate can do.

It is unlikely that anyone except the politicians would object to fewer annoying ads, and limiting the number of ads a candidate can run might even force him to run ads outlining his position, rather than burdening voters with negative and often untrue ads about his opponents.

Another limit that would make sense concerns legislation.

Currently, whether it is on the state or national level, legislatures seem to have a tough time getting anything done.

Part of this is the result of partisan bickering.

Another element, though, is the fact that many bills that are introduced have a huge load of pork attached to them.

Even if a legislator agrees with the main bill, he may find it hard to vote for it because of all of the extra special interest garbage that is attached to it.

This is compounded by the fact that different versions are introduced in the house and senate, and even if a bill does manage to make it through both chambers, the process begins all over again, as the two versions are reconciled.

Bills should be limited to elements directly related to their main subjects.

If, for example, a transportation funding bill is introduced in St. Paul, it should be illegal to attach a proposal to make the Virginia opossum the official state marsupial.

The possums should have to stand on their own merits, and the possum proposal should be introduced as a separate bill.

The mother of all political limits is the term limit, and we need more of these.

Term limits often meet harsh opposition, usually by those who are entrenched in office.

Some opponents say that we don’t need term limits, because we have the ability to vote out any scoundrel that we don’t like.

The reality, though, is that incumbents win an overwhelming majority of races in which they run.

The deck is stacked against the challenger, because incumbents tend to have greater fund-raising ability and a greater network from which they can draw support.

Other opponents say that term limits are bad because of the learning curve that is required of new legislators.

If it really takes so long to learn the system, what are they doing for us in the meantime?

Taxpayers cannot afford representatives who view their first term as a paid training period. We need people who can make a difference now.

We need a fresh approach, and new ideas.

Without turnover, we are stuck with political officeholders who are more concerned about maintaining their position and catering to special interest groups than they are about serving their constituents.

With all due respect to Mr. Byrd and his cronies, things have changed a great deal since the Truman administration.

A half-century of public service is more than enough. It is time to give others a chance.

We have come a long way from the principle of government “by the people and for the people.”

Maintaining a class of career politicians does little to serve the needs of the average citizen.

Reviving a “citizen legislature’ would go a long way toward accomplishing the goal of a government that actually represents the voters.

It would provide a greater range of candidates, more competitive elections, and encourage people to run for office who are not realistically able to do so under the current system.

Term limits would give us access to candidates who are in touch with what it takes to run a business or to live in the real world.

These candidates could take a leave of absence from the private sector to serve, and then return to the private sector, which is the way the system is supposed to work.

This would improve accountability and revitalize the political process.

Term limits might even instill a sense of urgency in our elected officials.

One gets tired of hearing incumbents promise the same things in election after election. If they were not able to achieve these goals during their last term (or terms), why should we believe that they will do any better if we elect them to a new term?

By limiting their time in office, we might even convince politicians to get their work done today, rather than at some mythical point in the future.

It would, of course, be difficult to implement any of these suggestions.

Common sense does not seem to have much of a place in government.

Elected officials do not like it when we break things down and try to simplify issues.

They prefer to muddy the waters with double-talk, and are happier when things appear complicated.

Imposing these limits would require a huge grass-roots movement, because politicians who are currently in office will vehemently oppose any attempt to derail the gravy train that they have been riding for so long.

From a taxpayer’s standpoint, though, when it comes to government, less really is more.