Ills of modern man

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  October 10, 2007

I’m always amazed when somebody who’s famous for a really bad idea suddenly comes up with a really good idea.

For instance, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor (bad idea), but later invented Godzilla movies (good idea). Not that that makes us even.

Or how about the Boston Red Sox, who almost spent enough money to fund a national health-insurance program in a failed attempt to sign Alex Rodriguez to play third base (bad), but ended up with Mike Lowell at a fraction of the cost (good). Note: This decision is subject to review at the conclusion of the baseball playoffs.

And then there’s the city of Portland, which once attempted to bulldoze all the brick buildings near its waterfront to create parking lots for the customers of downtown department stores that were about to go out of business (bad, also stupid), but now promotes the Old Port area as a wonderful place to squeeze money out of tourists (good, sorta).

Finally, we have Stephen King, whose little-known first published work was an unsuccessful children’s book called The Happy Little Turtle’s Busy Day, credited to Stephena Queen with illustrations by David Kish (very bad idea), but who now is rich and famous (very good idea). No idea what happened to Kish.

It’s possible I’m lying about that last one.

Doesn’t matter. These examples are reminders that just because someone has gotten it wrong in the past, they shouldn’t be dismissed as crackpots forevermore. Ten years is long enough.

Which means the statute of limitations has expired for Rick Bennett.

Bennett is a former Republican state senator and unsuccessful congressional candidate. (How unsuccessful? He lost to John Baldacci — that unsuccessful enough for you?) He’s also one of the architects of legislative term limits. That’s his bad idea and the one for which I originally intended to subject him to ridicule.

Here’s the background: In 1993, voters approved a referendum limiting legislators to four terms in office. The law took effect in 1996. Since then, it’s diminished the power of the Legislature and increased the influence of executive-branch bureaucrats and legislative staffers. In a 2005 book called Changing Members: The Maine Legislature in the Era of Term Limits, three college professors found evidence that kicking incumbents out after eight years had reduced the ability of the House and Senate to deal with complex issues and made senators and representatives less responsive to their constituents.

Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a measure extending term limits to six terms — 12 years — but only if voters approved. That proposal appears on the November ballot. Bennett is one of the leaders of a political action committee called No More Than Four, organized to defeat the extension.

An objective observer of the legislative process (by which I mean me) would have to conclude that the current Legislature is no improvement over the ones we had before term limits. Back then, decisions got made. Sometimes stupid decisions, but decisions nonetheless. Now, we have gridlock on tax relief, inaction on the high cost of health care, fumbling around with the idea of reducing the size of state government, and economic development initiatives being processed at a glacial pace.

Nice job, term-limit boy.

Bennett claims the blame belongs elsewhere. His theory is that the limits law should have prompted the Legislature to shift the way it does business.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, Elections and Voting,  More more >
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