Term limits a solution, but what is the problem?

Posted: Sunday, October 04, 2009

Before heading to the polls on Tuesday, there is a question we'd like an answer to: Just who are these career politicians from whom term limits will protect us?

A flip through the borough's election information pamphlet doesn't shed any light on the issue. Indeed, there are no candidates who have listed "politician" as their occupation. There are a wide range of other professions listed -- business owner, professional, educator, contractor, some retired, some still working -- but not a "politician" in the bunch.

Could it be that we're confusing "career politician" with "longtime public servant"?

Labeling someone a career politician connotes everything we fear about government -- greedy, power-thirsty people who work the system for their own gain.

Just what is the egregious abuse of power that necessitates limiting the terms of our public servants? Does disagreement over borough tax policy rise to that level?

Public servants run for office because they believe they can do a good job of representing their community and make it a better place for us all. They are our friends and neighbors. We see them at the grocery store and bump into them picking up our kids from school. They live down the street or around the corner. If we have a question, we can call them at home and get an answer. They may vote differently on an issue than we might have wanted, but they will explain why they voted that way.

Are they doing it for the money? Borough assembly members are paid $400 per month -- the assembly president gets $500 -- plus monthly stipends, which vary between $150 and $250 by district, to cover costs of using their personal vehicles conduct borough business. Expenses incurred while traveling on borough business also are covered.

It's also important to consider the context of our current debate over term limits. This initiative applies to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. Not the U.S. House of Representatives, not the U.S. Senate, not even the Alaska Legislature. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

Comparing Congress to our assembly is apples and oranges -- and then some.

What is a reasonable turnover rate for the assembly?

Of the nine members on the assembly heading into this week's election, only two have been in office for 10 or more years. Two assembly members have been in office for nine years.

Four assembly members have been in office for three years or less, and just one of those seats came open because of term limits.

Does that represent the blend of experience and fresh ideas we're looking for in our government bodies?

In the next three years, should the current term limits ordinance stand, five more assembly members will be "termed out," including the two assembly members prohibited from running for re-election this year. That's a lot of experience gone from the lineup. Is that healthy for our borough government?

Does any one member of the assembly, or the body as a whole, wield an unreasonable amount of power? We had a healthy debate this summer over that issue. What many people concluded is that our borough's system of government results in a good balance of power between the assembly and the mayor. Is there a need to change that balance? Weakening the assembly would appear to do that.

It would be easy to take out our anger at Washington, D.C., or Juneau on our local public servants, but is that really reasonable or fair?

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