Saturday, November 26, 2005

Unicameral Term Limits

The first group of legislators in Nebraska's Unicameral (one house legislature, for non-Nebraskans) are now running into term limits. The limits, prohibiting more than two consecutive terms, were established in a 2000 amendment to the state constitution. Not surprisingly, the politicians are pushing back: "Some of the 20 senators announced this week they plan to fight term limits in the courts. Sen. Dennis Byars of Beatrice was the first, saying Wednesday he plans to file for re-election next week.

When the secretary of state rejects his filing, Byars will appeal to the state Supreme Court on the grounds his constitutional rights are being violated.

Secretary of State John Gale expects more senators to do the same; Lincoln Sen. Marian Price said Thursday she might follow Byars' lead."
Others lining up to use the courts to thwart the will of the 56% of voters who enacted the amendment include Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha. Chambers, a 35-year veteran of the legislature, will not hit the limit until 2008.

Apparently the low salary offered our state senators is not such an impediment to attracting and keeping "career politicians" as we have been led to believe. Senators Byars, Price, Chambers, and others to be named later are even willing to spend their own money on a court battle to prevent the state from be deprived of their collective wisdom. Such selfless dedication to The Public Good brings tears to our eyes.

In an ideal world, these kinds of suits would be tossed out of court immediately or never even filed. An amendment to the state constitution cannot be unconstitutional under the document it amends, obviously. So presumably Byars has found a right in the US Constitution that allows him to serve in the Nebraska legislature indefinitely.

The US Constitution leaves the state government structure and makeup largely to the states and the people. While a requirement that legislators be of a particular gender, religion or race would run afoul of the Constitution, term limits are more like age or residency requirements. If federalism is to have meaning, states need to have broad latitude in how they govern themselves.

Sadly, the courts have largely sided with encumbents in the battle for Congressional term limits. We hope the desire of the citizens to break the hold of encumbents on the levers of government power will be respected in this case.

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