Joe Henderson: Term limits? Hillsborough voters can impose them themselves

People Standing Outside Voting Room
Seat hopping may violate the spirit of term limits, but does it really matter?

Term limits sound great and generally seem popular with voters. I’m not a fan, though, because the cure can be worse than the disease. Forcing effective lawmakers from office because of an arbitrary number usually means the newcomer has a steep learning curve.

Just who will do the teaching?

Special interests, of course.

With that in mind, there is reason to be leery of an idea kicking around the Hillsborough County Charter Review Board. It would close the loophole that allows County Commissioners to skirt the two-term limit voters approved in the 1980s.

That law limits commissioners to a pair of four-year terms in one district. However, when their time runs out in, say, a single-member district, they can hop to a county-wide district. It goes on all the time.

Commissioner Ken Hagen has worked the game better than anyone. He was first elected in 2002 and has bounced from single-member, to countywide, back to single-member.

Sure, that violates the spirit of what voters approved back in the day. He keeps winning elections, though, so that must say something about how the electorate feels about him.

On the other side, consider now-former commissioners Victor Crist and Sandy Murman. Both long-serving commissioners lost their bids to represent new districts.

The system works.

The phrase “career politician” ignores the value of experienced leadership.

“We have term limits, it’s called the ballot box,” review board member Mary Figg said at the meeting. “If the citizens — the voters — want to keep a representative for 3o years, why not, it’s their vote.”

She’s not wrong.

We have term limits in Tallahassee, you know. No more than two terms in the House or Senate, although lawmakers can jump from one body to the other.

Some folks believe the limits hurt more than they help.

“It’s not going to change,” Democratic consultant and former state House member Dick Batchelor told the Orlando Sentinel in 2019.

“The people are not going to support additional time in office. And the price we pay in exchange for that is more turnover of elected officials and an exponential increase in the influence of lobbyists and staff.”

In the same story, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith noted, “Tallahassee is broken. Session is too quick, term limits are too short and lawmakers are paid too little.”

He’s got a point, and the Hillsborough review board should listen.

Voters can – and do – impose term limits all by themselves.

They don’t need extra help.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

One comment

  • Chris Kenney

    December 2, 2020 at 7:50 pm

    I have to disagree based on the current method of funding elections. Commissioners get elected and then just having the advantage of incumbency draws all types of financial support from well off individuals to the so-called “good government” PACS that are only good for the donors. Challengers are at an inherent disadvantage with usually less name recognition and less ability to raise money. I can concur with some limit higher than two terms, but only if we have radical campaign finance reform. What I mean by radical reform is to virtually eliminate money. Use of the internet gives access to voters about the candidates and a public positions board can spell out their exact policy perspectives and planks. Public forums at neighborhood centers, churches, civic associations, etc. give the voters other opportunities to communicate directly, in addition to telephone, email, and social media. Yes, rather dry and it requires more effort by the voters to participate, but awakening that 30% of the population who’ve kept their heads in the sand until another Trump riles them up means exactly that – we wind up with another Trump.

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