Term limits: Doing the wrong thing over and over again

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” story. It is an editorial by the editor.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein

It amazes me how customarily iThe SteilsPaul Hillegondsntelligent and thoughtful people steadfastly cling to the wrong-headed notion that term limits are the medicine this country needs to cure its political ills.

We’ve seen term limits implemented in response to fears of having a king or dictator for life, in response to notions that career politicians cannot be voted out of office and somehow a high turnover rate is good for the health of our government.

I have yet to see term limits make a positive impact in this state or this nation. I dare say term limits too often have made a bad situation worse.

The first highly publicized effort was limiting all U.S. presidents to two, four-year terms with a constitutional amendment passed almost immediately after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected to four terms.

Republicans, naturally, led the charge to change the law so nobody ever again could serve more than 10 years total, two years in case of being elevated from the vice presidency and eight elected as president. Lyndon Johnson could have taken advantage of that rule for a second full term, but he famously declined.

Many Republicans changed their tune during Ronald Reagan’s second term, calling for repeal of the amendment so Ronnie, already suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and consulting astrologists to help with foreign policy decisions, could stay longer at the White House.

But even worse was the tale of Glenn Steil, who was co-chairman of the successful state effort in 1992 to implement term limits of six years for state legislators and eight years for state senators. Steil himself was elected to the Michigan Senate from Grand Rapids in 1994 and served his eight years, but then was quoted as saying that perhaps term limits weren’t such a good idea after all. His son was elected a state legislator in 2006, making it a family affair.

Term limits for Michigan lawmakers were implemented in 1994. The new law forced Allegan County to say good-bye to Paul Hillegonds in 1996 after a distinguished 16-year career as 88th District State Rep. He even was selected co-speaker of the house with Curtis Hertel.

And with term limits, he has been followed by a line of scoundrels — Patty Birkholz, Fulton Sheen, Bob Genetski and now Cindy Gamrat. All but Gramrat served for six years, none of them really did much of anything on behalf of their constituents in Allegan County.

Now comes news that City of Grand Rapids voters were flim-flammed and manipulated into doing term limits, resulting in the forced retirement of Mayor George Heartwell.

We voters are too easily conned into thinking that it’s bad for us to have public servants acquire added knowledge, service and power in the business of lawmaking through experience. We’ve fallen for the idea that we must artificially limit the service of elected representatives to save us from ourselves.

Einstein also said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Somebody else, I know not who, once warned us, “If you give Americans enough time, they will vote away all their freedoms.”

PHOTOS: Former State Senator Glenn Steil and his son at the State Capitol.

Former State Rep. Paul Hillegonds


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