Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Democracy and Term Limits

Mayor Bloomberg wants to have an elected office at the end of 2009 and since the presidency doesn't look too likely, it's looking like he's going to settle for a third term as New York City Mayor. The only problem is that New York City voters have voted to create and uphold term limits twice over the last 15 years and that limits office holders to only two terms in office. This is ordinarily the kind of thing that would present a problem for someone seeking a third term. But showing the bold, visionary thinking for which he is renowned, Bloomberg has a solution: have the City Council overturn term limits. By some quirk of legislative maneuvering, the elected officials whose power was checked by voter referendum have the power to uncheck themselves. Weird, I know, but that's the way it is.

Let me say that on the face of it, I'm not a big fan of term limits. I think that in a democracy we get to vote every four years on whether someone is doing a good enough job representing us that we want them to stay or not. That's a pretty good term limit to me: four years. If someone is doing a good enough job that a majority of the people they represent want them to stay, why should there be a rule saying that they can't? It really is pretty undemocratic.

I also love it when people post on message boards things like: "All politicians are corrupt. Throw the bums out." Term limits have been in place for long enough that the bums were thrown out. They were apparently just replaced by more bums. I think that's endemic to politics no matter what kind of limits are put in place.

To return to the point about democracy, though, the inescapable fact of the matter here is that twice, via direct referendum, the citizens of New York voted to establish term limits. Clearly this was no accidental law that happened to wind up on the books. The people have spoken. No matter how much I may like the job Mayor Bloomberg is doing and no matter how much I may dislike the notion of term limits, overturning them without going to the citizenry for a referendum on the issue is simply and completely undemocratic. There's a right way and a wrong way to do things. On this issue, Bloomberg is going the wrong way.

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