Noble: Term limits restrict voters’ choice |

Noble: Term limits restrict voters’ choice

Boy, that’s rich. The woman who has been the chair of the local Republican party for decades objects to Eagle County commissioners serving three terms instead of two.

Disingenuously, she conflates career politicians in Washington D.C. with current Eagle County commissioners. Citing the need to “enforce term limits” in Washington exposes the leader of the local minority party as unacquainted with both American history and the Constitution.

Other than the president, there are no term limits to be “enforced.” After more than 48 years in the House of Representatives, the longest serving member in Congress is Republican Don Young of Alaska. Shall we show him the door?

The notion that members of Congress served with no pay in the past is plainly false. Compensation for members of Congress is addressed in Article 1, Section 6, of the Constitution, “The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.” Initially, that compensation took the form of per diem, but later evolved into a salary. The $6 dollar per diem translates into $176 in today’s dollars and was considered extravagant at the time, with accusations that members of Congress dragged out legislative sessions to accumulate more per diem.

Another fact-free bromide shared by the Republican chair is the nostalgic notion that individuals took turns serving and then returned home to their farms. This is ahistorical for many reasons. Then, as now, most members of Congress were educated as lawyers and many held several elected positions during their lifetimes. As for the farmers, most were slaveholders, with unpaid help doing the actual farm work.

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Furthermore, while there are many “lifers” on both sides of the aisle, that was also the case a hundred years ago, thus hardly a new phenomenon.

To be clear, Eagle County Ballot Issue 1A only asks that voters approve extending the number of terms an Eagle County commissioner may serve from two to three. A term is four years. The ballot measure does not abolish term limits. Furthermore, other county positions, such as coroner, surveyor, and sheriff are not term-limited.

There is nothing extraordinary about this request. “State law allows voters to lengthen, shorten, or eliminate any term limits for elected officials through an election coordinated with the county clerk of each county in which the local government is located” according to the Colorado Local Government Handbook.

“Throw the bums out” may be one of the few remaining bipartisan sentiments. However, voters rarely do so. Incumbents enjoy name recognition, established fundraising apparatus, and voters’ risk aversion.

There are solid reasons for letting the voters decide when a politician’s time is up, rather than an arbitrary expiration date established by statute. Quite simply, term limits restrict voters’ choice.

Also, legislating requires experience. Laws and policies must be carefully crafted by people who know what they are doing. No matter how much a candidate claims to be ready on Day 1, there is still a steep learning curve. Even at the county level the issues can be complex and involve numerous stakeholders both within the county and at the state and federal level.

For example, Commissioner Kathy Chandler Henry serves on the Board for the Colorado River District and as chair of the regional water Quality and Quantity Committee. Issues surrounding water are not only complex, but of vital importance for agriculture, power generation, recreation, and residential use. These concerns do not stop at Eagle County’s border but involve other counties and states. Having a commissioner who possesses a deep understanding of an issue this complex and who has forged relationships with stakeholders in other jurisdictions better serves the citizens of Eagle County.

Across Colorado, liberal and conservative, urban and rural counties alike, either allow for three terms or have no term limits. Conservative Weld County allows commissioners to serve three terms, as does liberal Pitkin County. Baca, Kiowa, and Yuma Counties, all conservative counties, have no term limits for commissioners.

Officeholders make decisions that have long-term and widespread impact. If they are performing, voters should have the option to retain them. One additional term is a reasonable ask for good governance.

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