Friday, October 24, 2008This is just repulsive.
Yesterday the New York City Council voted to extend term limits for city offices in New York from 2 to 3 terms. In the 1990's a term limit referendum was passed by the voters, causing tremendous turnover in the city council earlier this decade. The officeholders who were elected because of the new law are now unilaterally permitting a third term for themselves. Gee, I wonder what happens in 4 years when their terms are limited again?
As a matter of principle, I am opposed to term limits for legislators. We need competitive elections and political accountability, but there are I believe better ways to accomplish this than term limits. I am in favor of term limits for executives out of a long-standing concern at the concentration of power in the executive branch of government at all levels. Heck, I'd consider limiting executives to one term. Finally, while I agree that government by referendum is a bad idea, we have to be extremely careful in choosing to overrule the voters once they've made their will clear. After all, it's their government.
The arguments that have been deployed to justify this decision are transparently feeble. Bloomberg claims that in a times of financial crisis the government needs continuity. Um, hello Mr. Arrogant - in a democracy, no person is indispensable. This really isn't a road we can afford go travel down. In addition, a member of the city council asserted that longer terms for the Council were required to strengthen the legislator. This might make sense if they weren't extending the limits of the Mayor too!
But let's leave all that aside. Even if the City Council members really believed that term limits are a bad idea, and even if they're right that the voters shouldn't have a chance to repeal their previous decision in a referendum, this decision is still outrageous, because the change in the law benefits the very people voting for it. They're acting as a judge in their own case, which is in almost all cases a terrible thing to do. If this was a matter of principle, they'd have the change take effect for their successors. The fact that they haven't reveals this episode as an example of naked self-interest.