Monday, April 21, 2008

Expanding the Scope of Term Limits

A key figure in the ongoing federal trial for former State Senator Gene Stipe pled guilty this week to crimes related to the abuse of your taxpayer dollars. Because of the ongoing criminal case, past abuses of Oklahoma’s old guard politicians are becoming less and less of a secret.

I believe one of the key reasons for the exposure of these past abuses has been the dramatic shift in power in Oklahoma politics brought on by term limits. Those of us who are fighting to put an end to the abuses of the past face an increased likelihood of success, due in part to the fact that there are many new elected officials who have taken office in the past few years. Many of these individuals have not been corrupted by the political process. Unlike some of their predecessors, they are not career politicians. Oklahoma’s term limit law allows all representatives and senators to serve only twelve years in the Legislature. After that, they are under a lifetime ban from holding office in the Legislature again. I believe this new generation of representatives and senators is fulfilling one of the important visions of our nation’s founding fathers - the vision in which an average citizen dedicates a few years of his or her life to representing the people as a citizen-statesman. At the end of the term of office, the legislator returns to the normal world to live under the very laws he or she helped to create. This helps to ensure that legislators will be more representative of the people instead of becoming a class of the political elite.

As a result of the term limits law, the Legislature is very different from just a few years ago. Gone are many of the old guard power bosses who tightly maintained the status quo. These politicians could have stayed in office almost indefinitely and they held powerful committee chairmanships where they would bottle up reform-minded legislation. They have been replaced by a group of energetic professionals, many of whom wish to enact pro-growth policies (i.e. cutting taxes) to change Oklahoma for the better. And, should some succumb to the temptation to become part of the status quo, they will inevitably be replaced because of term limits.

I think all Oklahomans should take pride in the fact that Oklahoma was the first state to pass a legislative term limits law, and this week I was honored to vote for Senate Bill 1987. SB 1987 was sponsored by Representative Trebor Worthen. The bill would allow the people to vote on expanding Oklahoma's term to include statewide elected officials. Worthen has worked on this proposal for 4 years now. I was especially happy to see the bill pass the House this year, because Worthen has indicated that he will not be seeking re-election and I hope he has an opportunity to see this important contribution to reforming Oklahoma government go into law because of his bill.

I think it is important to note that Worthen originally proposed this bill in 1995. At that time the bill was narrowly defeated. Now, Worthen's bill passed the House with the support of another new wave of freshman representatives who have been elected because of term limits. I think this is a good sign for the future because it demonstrates the commitment of Oklahoma's new leaders to continued reform. It is also important to remember that none of this would have been possible without the people of Oklahoma taking the initiative to pass the first term limit proposal through the initiative petition process.

As your Representative, I will continue to defend this important reform, and consider it an honor to support Rep. Worthen in what I believe may have been the most important vote of the year.

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