Jim Ruffalo: Have we gone from career politicians to career candidates?

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Part of the learning curve is finding out things we once deemed permanent aren’t really that way. Time and tide were once thought to be permanent, but Einstein teaches the opposite on the former, and now we know that the moon — which causes the tidal movement — eventually will escape earth’s gravitational pull and head off to God knows where, taking the ocean’s waves with it. Even taxes have a half-life. At least they did back when tough old birds such as Howard Jarvis were still shuffling on this mortal coil. So now, about the only thing we’re left with appearing to be permanent are “Friends” re-runs and political incumbency. We foolish voters once thought we could use term limits to end that repugnant practice of an elected official holding an office for life. But then we got Tim Leslie and the like. You know, where an office holder would sit until term-limited, then find another office to run for, even if it were lower on the political pecking scale. Still, I’m not about to give up on the concept of term limits. To my way of thinking, it’s the correct antidote, but the dosage is a bit weak. If you absolutely want to get rid of career politicians, then we must opt for absolute term limits. It seems that most — if not all — problems with the current branches of state and federal governments is that we have dropped to a lower level of hell than even Dante could imagine. Look closely at those two levels of government and you might agree that we’ve gone from career politicians to career candidates. No matter what you may think of our current president, can anyone deny he’s been in permanent campaign mode? And it’s no better where just about every congressman — just after lifting his hand off the Bible while uttering the oath of office, looks around at the admiring crowd and starts mentally dunning each and all for his next campaign. You can see the problem without squinting. No matter which side of the aisle a congressman, state senator or Assembly member sits, he or she spends way too much time in trying to figure out how to get re-elected. That valuable work time should be spent on how best to make our world, but we all know better than that by now. As sound as I think my logic is, it quickly got blown away when I spoke with several current elected officials or political players. Auburn City Council member Kevin Hanley agreed that some sort of term-limiting is needed “but not necessarily only one-term. “Of course there is a problem in sticking around too long in that when you first ran for office, it was to change the status quo. But if you stick around too long, you become part of the status quo,” he said, Mayor Bill Kirby also is a fan of some sort of term-limiting, but is wary of absolute limits. “It takes at least one term to learn your way around (the system),” he said, adding that a second term is needed “to get things done.” Rob Haswell is a long-time Democrat strategist, having once held the post of Regional One Director for that party statewide, and currently works for 5th District Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery. “I agree with the basic premise that the system constantly needs new blood, and I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s good for one person to hold office for 30 years, but there’s something to be said for ‘institutional memory,’” he said. Mike Holmes, another Auburn City Council member, agrees that the current state term-limit laws haven’t served us very well. “On the other hand, we’ve seen where (in places with more strident limits) how lobbyists and staffers take over and run the show because they’re the only ones who know how things work.” Holmes said he’s convinced that term limits are not needed locally “because at that level, most voters have some sort of personal connection with candidates. Those (office holders) who don’t serve well get replaced at a regular basis.” So for the most part, there’s agreement that some sort of limitation is needed, the argument being how long to hold one’s nose and let the same officeholder stick around. At least there was some agreement until I spoke with Aaron Park of the Placer County Republican Central Committee. “I am totally opposed to term limits of any kind,” he said, then adamantly added “Limiting terms is solely the job of the voters. If they like one person, then keep him, and if not, then out he goes. “In politics, experience should count for something, and for the system to function correctly, then we need discerning voters. It’s up to the voters to decide when (an office-holder) has become stale,” Park said. Great! Right back where I started. Inarguably there’s something vitally wrong with our political system, and I wouldn’t mind trying absolute “one and you’re done” term limits. On the other hand, I’m not always right, and I’m never completely right, so I’d be very interested in hearing some other opinions. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs on Sundays. Reach him at