Last month, Gov. Paul LePage denounced Maine’s term limits law, going so far as to say it enables “young people with firm agendas” to do long-term harm to the state.
As a millennial, I was surprised to hear a purported statesman — the governor of a great New England state — invoking age discrimination to make his arguments. Surely LePage does not believe that rigid agendas are exclusive property of the young. When the people of Maine passed eight-year term limits with 67 percent of the vote in 1993, they made a statement not against any particular age group but against an entrenched class of political insiders.
Term limits were borne out of hope that politicians would find real careers and that people with real careers would bring some of their ingenuity into politics. How old they were didn’t matter, so long as a fresh face could finally have some skin in the game.
LePage also said that these young people pass bills “that are hurting us for the long haul.” Since Maine’s governor has veto power, it is assumed he’s talking about cases of veto override. In LePage’s two notable overrides of recent memory — the summer nutrition program bill and Medicaid treatment for smokers — neither party showed a gap in voting between its younger and older members.
For the most part, Republicans were unified with Republicans, and Democrats were unified with Democrats. In the rare cases of members dissenting from the party line, offenders from all areas of the age spectrum emerged.
LePage’s unsolicited attack on the people’s term limits smacks of discontent with elected Democrats who have worked to block his own agenda. Often, when a public official has run out of ways to attack individuals and ideas, he will move on to the system that brought them to power.
As hard as it might be to see through a partisan lens, what LePage views as a problem with term limits is actually smoking gun evidence that they’re working. Term limits create open seat races and keep incumbents from becoming electorally invincible. This allows for the people to swiftly change course when they don’t like the way government functions.
The Republican takeover of 2010 would not have been possible without term limits. Funny that LePage wasn’t complaining about the reform back then.
The Democratic takeover of 2012 would likewise not have been possible either.
A new USA Today poll showed that Americans are gradually warming up to the idea of divided government. LePage’s vision of one-party rule scares us far more than the healthy tension we see today.
By nature, term limits don’t favor one type of government over another. They merely create the opportunity for people to change the status quo if it isn’t working. The people of Maine understand this. Not only did they pass term limits in a landslide in 1993, but in 2007 they voted with 67 percent to not lengthen the limits from eight to 12 years. The margin of defeat if LePage gets his abolition idea on the ballot will be simply astronomical.
Some commentators have implored the Maine Legislature to repeal the statutory term limits without asking the voters. LePage hasn’t yet weighed in on this idea. The best solution is to toss the lame excuses and listen to the voters. On term limits, voters are the one voice the governor has ignored. They’re also the only one that matters.
Nick Tomboulides, 24, of Lake Worth, Fla., is executive director of U.S. Term Limits, a national advocacy group based in Palm Beach, Fla. He has a degree in economics from the University of Connecticut.