Clean Elections and term limits: Good ideas that aren’t workingby Tucson Citizen on May. 22, 2009, under Local, Opinion, Special
On Nov. 4 voters in Legislative District 10 on Phoenix’s Northwest Side elected Doug Quelland to the Arizona House of Representatives.
On May 15, an unelected state commission overruled them and ordered Quelland out of the House for violating rules governing publicly financed campaigns.
Quelland is appealing and can remain in the House until that’s resolved but judging from the evidence gathered by the commission, it’s likely he’ll be forced out.
It’s the second time in two years the state’s Clean Elections Commission has overturned voters’ wishes because a candidate agreed to take public money for his campaign then broke the incredibly complex rules governing that money’s use.
Clean Elections and its cousin, term limits, were supposed to put the citizen back in citizen government. Neither has happened.
The Democrats elected to the Legislature are more liberal and the Republicans more conservative than ever before. The gulf that lies between them has prevented compromise and progress on a whole host of issues.
Candidates who had to put their hand out to numerous constituencies to raise money pre-Clean Elections need now only put their hands out to their parties’ true believers. Because of another good idea gone bad – the state’s redistricting commission, which botched the gerrymandering of state legislative districts – there are few competitive districts in the state. Most candidates need only win their party’s primary to get elected and primary voters tend to be the most strident of party faithful.
Meanwhile, party operatives have figured out how to game the system, turning Clean Elections into more of an oxymoron than a supposed field leveler.
While public financing was supposed to take the corruption out of politics by making candidates beholden more to voters than donors, term limits was supposed to refresh the state house every few years with new candidates bringing fresh ideas to state government.
Instead, candidates have likewise made term limits an oxymoron. Candidates termed out of the House after eight years simply run for the Senate, or vice versa, and almost always get elected.
Quelland’s seatmate from District 10, Jim Weiers, has been in the Legislature for 15 years. He did his eight in the House, including a term as Speaker, got termed out, got elected to the Senate for one term, then jumped back to the House where he was Speaker for two terms. He’s in the middle of his eighth two-year term in the Legislature.
It was this kind of career politician that term limits was supposed to limit.
The great irony is that term limits was unnecessary, there already were term limits every two years.
Voters should be able to give money to whomever they want and elect whomever they want however many times they want.
It’s time for voters to jettison both these laws and re-take responsibility for whom they elect.