Some of our village trustees have decided that Riverside needs to have term limits. As Bob Uphues said in his Feb. 13 editorial, this is a solution without a problem.
I did not know that Riverside had a problem with village trustees who had consolidated so much power that they couldn’t be voted out of office, or that we had such a surfeit of people wanting to run for village trustee that we needed a system to allow people to take turns.
Here in Riverside, as with most volunteer elected positions across our nation, it is a struggle to get enough people to take time from their lives to serve the public. I am grateful for all of them and the hundreds and thousands of additional volunteers who help get them elected.
There are never enough volunteers in politics. So why would we want to limit them? People tout term limits as some kind of panacea without understanding why they came about in the first place and what the unintended consequences of them has been.
Let’s look at the explanations for why the trustees are putting this issue in our laps. One trustee says that he thinks “it will revitalize the town.” How? Another trustee mentions that term limits are overwhelmingly popular in the general public. Really? Where? I am unaware of any studies or polls that have been done in Riverside.
It is also being said that if there aren’t term limits, that it will “introduce political parties, partisanship, one-issue candidates.” How having term limits would eliminate any of those three things eludes me. Just look at the office of the U.S. President, which has term limits, and you can see that all three of those are very much an issue with respect to that office. Term limits do not prevent partisanship, or political parties, or single issues.
Both trustee Peters and Pollock correctly identify some issues that term limits would create: a shortage of potential candidates and too much turnover already. As Roger Sherman, the only signer of all four founding documents of the United States said in 1788, “Nothing renders government more unstable than a frequent change of the persons that administer it.”
Term limits fundamentally take power away from voters. If there is an elected official who has overstayed their welcome, or whose ideas are unpopular, it is incumbent upon the voters to speak for themselves at the election polls.
One significant unintended consequence of term limits is that it forces qualified people out of office, and creates openings for unqualified people. This became evident in the 1990s after many term limit laws were passed. Qualified people were forced to leave office for no other reason, leaving a vacuum which was filled by people who would not otherwise have gotten elected.
Voters have the power to remove people from office, essentially to fire them if they don’t like the job they are doing. However, if they like the job they are doing, then they will and should be re-elected.