We understand the reasoning behind a proposed local law that would impose term limits on future Erie County lawmakers. We just don’t think it’s a good idea.
A vote could come as early as this week on a proposal limiting future county legislators to five two-year terms or a maximum of 10 consecutive years in office. The resolution’s sponsors considered imposing a six-term limit before settling on five.
County Legislator Kevin Hardwick, R-City of Tonawanda, is a principal sponsor of the legislation, which is expected to come up for a vote Thursday. Legislators Ted B. Morton of Depew and Edward A. Rath III of Amherst, both Republicans, are the other sponsors.
The resolution, as Hardwick points out, does not preclude someone from serving five terms, then taking some time off before running for the County Legislature again. The law would not be retroactive, applying only after the next legislative body is seated in 2016.
Term limits have been talked about among the Republican-aligned majority for a while, but gained new gusto following the announcement by Republican State Sen. George Maziarz of Newfane that he would not seek a fifth term. That announcement came as Maziarz finds himself in the middle of a federal probe of his campaign expenses.
Whenever political controversy arises, which is often, the temptation is to suggest term limits. However, that can be problematical. While it would remove weak legislators, it would also remove those who work effectively and ethically for their districts. Automatically forcing legislators out of office makes them lame ducks for their entire final term. And it costs the body some institutional memory that helps keep the body running smoothly.
Instead of implementing arbitrary term limits, a better solution is to fix a broken system. Especially at the state level, change our system of redistricting so that legislators can no longer gerrymander districts to protect incumbents. Make sure measures are firmly in place to root out corruption.
Reducing the advantages legislators enjoy will make it easier to give sharp candidates a fair shot at dislodging ineffective legislators who are simply warming a seat and collecting years toward a pension.
In other words, we need to work harder at delivering the democracy upon which this country was built.