Maine Politics

From the Piscataqua to the St. John

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Term Limits

Three political science professors from the University of Maine have written a book on the effects of Maine's 1993 law enacting term limits for members of the legislature. Their research has exposed some major flaws in this kind of legislation.

One of those consequences is an abbreviated learning curve for new legislators, who must very quickly learn their way around the institution. They need to make a mark, particularly if they have leadership ambitions. They sometimes are impatient with the give-and-take of the legislative process.

[Professor] Moen observes that new legislators often reintroduce legislation rejected in previous sessions, often unaware that such bills already had been considered. From 1995 to 2000, for instance, the number of bills introduced in the Maine Legislature rose by 43 percent. As each bill must be researched by the legislative staff and prepared for formal introduction, the redundancy consumes valuable time and resources, can extend the length of legislative sessions and, additionally, can distract legislators from more pressing legislative matters, according to the authors.

Perhaps more significant is the loss of seasoned legislators, which effectively increases the political power of other policymakers, such as executive branch officials or legislative staff. Elected officials, the authors suggest, seem to have ceded at least some political power to these non-elected officials, who often serve, through necessity, as the institutional memories for legislators.

Al Diamon recently wrote a column on the subject, his conclusions:
Guess we showed them.

By "we," I actually mean "you." Because I didn't vote for the term-limits referendum back in 1993. And by "showed them," I mean "didn't do diddly." Because the term-limits law for state legislators hasn't accomplished what proponents promised.

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