James King and the Californiazation of Maryland

Delegate James King has finally decided to stand for something (other than giving Martin O’Malley political cover) and he has picked term limits as his hill to die on for this legislative session, being the sole sponsor of HB660 which would prohibit members of the General Assembly, the Comptroller, the Attorney General, or the State Treasurer from serving more than two consecutive terms.

Why James King decided now was the time to actually try to play the role of a conservative is kind of baffling (unless you think his crowded District 33A re-election primary or a potential Senate challenge to Ed Reilly is a concern) but King has decided to happen upon the one issue that would turn effective control of the machinations of state over to……lobbyists and staffers.

One of the biggest criticisms of term limits is the complete lack of institutional memory that remains once the limits are in place. Legislative and Committee leadership are being overturned pretty much with every successive election that takes place. With that, that experience (for whatever its worth) is turned over. That leaves the most knowledgeable people when it comes to issues and legislative dynamics being those people who are unelected and not subject to term limits in the first place; the lobbyists and the staffers.

To see where the idea of term limits can get you, take a look at the fiscal situation in California. While it’s true that King’s constitutional amendment is not nearly as draconian as California’s law, there are a number of pretty obvious impact these limits have brought the state:

  1. Legislative leadership turns over at a rapid rate;
  2. Staff members are increasingly valuable to newly elected legislators, since they know how the place really works.
  3. Lobbyists are one of the most knowledgeable sources of information for newly elected legislator on particularly issues, legislative dynamics, etc.
  4. Most legislators who know that when they are termed out of office that there are no practical political repercussions for any zany and off-the-wall ideas they want to introduce; and,
  5. Those legislators who aren’t trying to go home are career politician wannabes who are trying to move up the food chain to the next office.

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So when you combined the elements of legislative turnover, entrenched staffers and lobbyists, and ambitious folks mixed with people not required to face the music, you get a state that is billions in debt, has an oppressive tax rate and business climate, and is losing people and companies to neighboring states in droves. Basically, Maryland on steroids.

And besides, we already have term-limits; they’re called elections. The antidote to the same schmucks getting elected over and over again is citizen involvement.

Hey, we all think that our “citizen-legislators” should be more emphasis on the citizen and less on the legislator. And we all know that we can do better than the entrenched legislators that we have in Annapolis, some of whom have been there since the 1960’s. But King’s idea is foolish at best and dangerous at worst. And it isn’t like the Amendment is going to be passed by the General Assembly any time soon.

If King wanted to put more emphasis on trying to create positive change in Annapolis and a little less emphasis on trying to put on conservative airs in an election year, he would reach across the aisle and work with Baltimore Democrats to change the legislative apportionment process to create single member districts in the House and a nonpartisan redistricting commission. That idea, which would have a lot of legs on both sides of the aisle, would bring about a much more positive change (and actually have a chance of going somewhere) and would be of greater benefit to the people of Maryland than this dog and pony show…


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