Twenty years ago, voters in Florida were asked to add a constitutional amendment to Florida Constitution to term limit the members of the Florida House and Florida Senate. The amendment, which was pushed with the slogan “Eight is Enough”, passed with 77% of the vote. While many on the Democratic side were against it, Republicans were largely for the measure. The amendment “sounded” nice, but voters didn’t real know the reality of its eventual outcome. In fact, many in the political world didn’t know what would happen.
Now it is twenty years since the amendment was passed. So, have term limits worked?
When the term limit amendment was passed, it were expected to help “reduce the influence of special interests” in Tallahassee as well as “get rid of the career politician”. At least that is what we were told by those that were in favor of term limits.
So, looking back, let’s see how things panned out. Let’s look at some of the members of the Florida House of Representatives in the early 1990s. Of course, I am not going to go over all the member of the House, but just a few key people. First, let’s look at Stephen Wise. Wise was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1988 and served until 2001 because of term limits. He then moved over to the Florida Senate after 2001 and served there until last year. So, when Wise entered the House, he was only there for four years when term limits passed. Still, he served 24 years in Tallahassee.
Another interesting case is that of Mike Fasano. Yes, Mr. Fasano didn’t run until 1994, which was two years after term limits were passed. Still, he has made a career in Tallahassee. First, he was elected to the Florida House and was termed out in 2000. In 2002, he was elected to the Florida Senate and retained that seat until 2012. In 2012, Fasano then moved back to the House and ran unopposed. Therefore, Mr. Fasano has made a career of flipping back and forth between chambers in Tallahassee.
So, in the two cases above, only Mr. Fasano had a two-year break from the Legislature. Of course, there are other instances that we could look at as well, but that would take a long time. These are just the two best examples which shows that term limits haven’t worked.
Not only does it apply to Tallahassee, it applies to local, statewide and federal offices as well. While one of the big factors of passing the term limits amendment was to get rid of “career politicians”, term limits have actually created more powerful politicians than before term limits. In the past, member of the Florida House and Senate would just stay in that body. Members like W.D. Childers and Dempsey Barron are examples of politicians who stayed in the Tallahassee establishment. Of course, both Childers and Barron were powerful, and we can endlessly debate if they were more powerful than the politicians today. That is a debate for another time.
Nowadays, because politicians are forced out of the Florida House or Senate, many of them need to figure out their next move. For people like Wise and Fasano, jumping over to the other chamber is the best option. For some like Tom Feeney, Bill Posey and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, going to Congress was their route. As for Charlie Crist, becoming Attorney General and then Governor was the best option. For others, local offices were more attractive. Either way, those that are term limited need to find their next option before they become politically insignificant. If they do not just jump over to the other chamber, they usually find a more significant political position, thus remaining “career politicians”. Therefore, the problem isn’t solved.
Still, there are some that might not want to run for office, but still want to be part of the political scene. For example, former senator Curt Kiser has been highly involved with politics in Tallahassee since he left office. In addition to those that don’t want to run, there are those that lose and get nice Tallahassee positions. Tom Feeney is the perfect example. After losing his congressional seat, Feeney now finds himself as president of one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in Tallahassee, the Associated Industries of Florida. So, even though some might no longer be in elected politics, they are still influential in politics. In the case of Tom Feeney, he currently holds the most powerful political position of his career.
Of course, these are just a few stories about members that have been term limited and have found other options. The fact is that term limits have failed to address any of the issues it was created to control. Not only do we still have career politicians, we have more powerful politicians. If they don’t stay in politics, there is always a nice job waiting for them in Tallahassee or Washington. And, of course, they can just figure out their ways around term limits, as all of those mentioned above have done.
Term limits have been a disastrous failure. Unfortunately, the words “term limits” sound too good for voters to vote against.