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So much for the consent of the governed

By Frank Salvato
web posted February 21, 2005

When one thinks of the phrase "term limits" an image of aging, old-boy-network politicians sitting in plush offices on Capitol Hill in Washington DC comes to mind. The concept of term limits is to keep those elected to Congress from feeding from the public trough so long as to become as tendentiously institutionalized as, oh, let's say a Robert Byrd, a Teddy Kennedy or a Strom Thurmond, God rest his soul.

But politics isn't only about Washington DC or state capitols. It is also about counties, cities, towns, villages and school boards. In fact, we are more affected by the decisions made at the local level than we are by the decisions made at the national level. One need only understand that with all the talk of education funding being bandied around Washington DC, on average, our federal government is only responsible for 10 per cent of the funding it takes to run our schools. The illusion is there but the reality is not.

In 1998, a group of people headed by Tramm Hudson, the former chairman of the Sarasota Florida County Republican Party, got together to support the "Two Will Do" term limits effort there. Like at least eight other counties in Florida, 68 per cent of the people in Sarasota County thought that escaping the pitfalls of having career politicians was a good thing and approved an amendment limiting the terms of their county commissioners to two. The will of the people had been done. Or so it seemed.

In January of 2005 Circuit Judge Deno Economou ruled that the Florida Constitution does not allow for citizens to place a limit on how many times a county commissioner can be elected to office. His ruling was issued despite the fact that term limits are already in place in more than eight other Florida counties. He based his ruling on a 2002 Supreme Court decision that stated that only the state constitution could establish rules such as term limits for constitutional officers. Economou used a broad and liberal interpretation to include county commissioners into the realm of constitutional officers. Arguably, this could be construed as a judge creating law which is judicial activism rather than ruling on a point of law which is the judiciary's intended function.

While I have reservations about the idea of term limits, there are two overriding questions this matter brings to mind: 1) who empowers our government and 2) whose interests are they supposed to be pursuing?

The obvious answer to the first question is that "We the People" empower our government whether it is on the national, state or, as is the case here, the local level. Under no circumstance can government be empowered by any other force. As President Abraham Lincoln was so keen to point out in his Gettysburg Address, we have a "government of the people, by the people and for the people." Case closed.

The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated but not because it's supposed to be.

In theory, our government should be doing the work of the people all of the time with the consent of those they govern as mandated by our electoral process. Ironically, that is why politicians and government employees are categorized as civil servants; they serve the civilian populace.

But we don't live in a perfect United States and many who are elected to office have a terminal case of the "Me-Me's." By that I mean they are so arrogant and drunk with power garnered from extended periods in political office they dismiss the will of the people with a narcissistic wave of their pandering hands and a rationalization that leaves their constituency scratching their heads.

Two people who have crossed the line from public service to power hungry narcissism are Sarasota County Commissioners Jon Thaxton and Nora Patterson, both in the second terms of what were amended to be two term positions.

Ms. Patterson, when asked about Judge Economou's decision said that she wasn't convinced that voters really meant what they voted for. "People vote for things in the heat of the moment," she said. She went on to say that she believed the voters meant for term limits to affect those in national office and that the will of the people, as mandated by their overwhelming approval of the term limits amendment, didn't apply to her or her fellow commissioners. How convenient.

After a unanimous vote by the five county commissioners of Sarasota County to abandon an appeal of Judge Economou's decision -- all five of whom would have been ineligible to run again under the term limits approved by their constituents -- Commissioner Thaxton, after hearing county attorney David Persson opine that the chances to win on appeal were "slim," said that it made him "unwilling to commit to the fight."

Another Sarasota County commissioner, Shannon Staub -- who is starting her third term -- said she didn't feel that Sarasota County needed "to be the lead in the state on this one."

And Commission Chairman Paul Mercier -- who is starting his second term -- was less tactful in his disdain for the will of his constituents when he said, "If the people of Sarasota County don't like the decision they can show their displeasure at the ballot box." I wonder if Mr. Mercier ever heard the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for.'

There is an old adage that goes, "a politician will almost never vote himself out of office." That old saw used to be something people would chuckle about. But as more and more politicians and judges usurp the sanctity of the consent of the governed it isn't anything to dismiss with a chuckle anymore. Let's just hope that the people of Sarasota County, Florida make an example of Mercier, Thaxton, Staub and Patterson. Beyond performance of civic responsibility, they would be doing their county -- and their country -- a favor while sending the message that we are "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore."

Frank Salvato is a political media consultant and managing editor for TheRant.us. His pieces are regularly featured in Townhall.com. He has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor and numerous radio shows. His pieces have been recognized by the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention and are periodically featured in The Washington Times as well as other national and international publications. He can be contacted at oped@therant.us Copyright © 2005 Frank Salvato

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