Let's talk term limits

OK, so term limits for City Council probably won't happen, at least not in the near future. But that doesn't mean we can't debate the merits of the bill Wilson Goode proposed yesterday. Catherine Lucey gets us started by collecting reaction from other council-members. Predictably, most of them are against limits. Here's the gist of their argument, articulated by Brian O'Neill:

"The voters tell you when you've been in too long."

In his column, Elmer Smith elaborates a bit on the downside of Goode's idea:

On the national level, term limits would cost us the expertise of people like the late Ted Kennedy, whose experience enabled him to pull levers that less-experienced lawmakers can't even find.

But wait. A Daily News editorial observes that term limits would "bring fresh perspectives to the city's legislative body" and "give more people a shot at public service" (an accompanying chart makes the point that certain council members have been around since Gerald Ford). The editorial concludes that the bill at least deserves a public airing before its probable dumping.

Over at Young Philly Politics, State Rep. Mark Cohen posted testimony on the subject from Larry Frankel, the ACLU lobbyist who passed away last year. Frankel said that term limits would empower lobbyists, not voters.

As someone who has lobbied the Pennsylvania General Assembly for more than 14 years, I believe that term limits end up enhancing the power of folks like me. In fact, it might be more appropriate (although undoubtedly unconstitutional) to establish term limits for lobbyists. After all, if term limits are adopted, it would be the lobbyists and longtime staff would have the knowledge about how bills become laws and how the process really works. To me, this sounds like giving way too much power to the unelected.

One thought we'd add to all this is that even if an appetite for term limits isn't there, Philly might want to re-think some of the norms that create the conditions for this conversation -- things like taxpayer money getting used for council P.R., council employees working on campaigns, or loopholes in the city's campaign finance laws. There are other reasons that incumbency is such a big advantage in this town. Maybe some of those could be addressed.

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