Back in the 1960s, Fletcher’s Castoria ran a TV ad that compared the benefit of their laxative versus the number of prunes you’d have to eat each day to stay regular. It asked the question, “Is three enough? Is six too many?” Prunes aside, that commercial said a lot about common sense limits, and it harkened back to Benjamin Franklin’s suggestion that we do everything in moderation. Of course, there’s a difference between setting limits that only affect our own lives, versus those that affect everyone. And that brings me to politics. Unfortunately, the teachings of Fletcher and Franklin are lost on those of us who keep re-electing the same people over and over again, without any regard for the power that they amass, or the dangers and inefficiencies of the government that they run.
Here in North Carolina, for example, there are twice as many Democrats and Unaffiliated voters than there are registered Republicans. Yet thanks to gerrymandering, Republicans control the State legislature and have been free to pass a number of laws that are prejudicial to Democrats, Blacks, the LGBTQ community, and even to small-town newspapers. The only way to break this cycle of repression and suppression is to allow every citizen to vote on a Constitutional Amendment that would limit the terms of state lawmakers. In the meantime, we also need to put limits on the number of days the General Assembly is allowed to be in session, and restore the concept of a part-time citizen legislature.
The North Carolina General Assembly has been in session since January, and, as of a few days ago, they still had not finalized a budget, allocated the surplus, or re-drawn district voting lines. Not only that, but, as columnist Tom Campbell noted recently, it costs taxpayers about $850,000 per month just to keep the session running. That’s almost $7.7 million dollars we’ve spent for these politicians to spar with one another and accomplish very little. But isn’t that pretty much normal for every State? No, it’s not.
Currently, 39 of the 50 States have Constitutional Amendments in place that limit the number of days their legislators can be in session. Most often those limits are in the 60 to 90-day range, unlike North Carolina, which allows our lawmakers to stick around Raleigh like ticks on a hound. Nevertheless, our legislature is still considered to be a part-time body, as opposed to those that are full-time, such as California, New York, and eight other states. According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) lawmakers in the ten full-time states spend 84% of their time on the job, and are paid an average of $82,000. That compares to legislators in part-time states like North Carolina, who spend 74% of their time on the job and are paid an average of $41,000. In that sense, I suppose we’re getting a bargain, but the point is that we don’t need our elected State officials to spend so much time on legislative business.
Not only do most states have limits on the number of days their legislators can meet, some states only meet every other year, so we know it’s possible for elected officials to get their work done in a shorter amount of time. When they don’t, then we pay the price, and in more ways than one. Without reduced length of sessions and term limits on State lawmakers, we are condoning a system of government that creates and sustains pockets of legislative power where the leadership’s main goal is to remain in power. Of course, that can be rectified by imposing limits. Are two terms enough? Are six too many? We can argue over the details, but for my money, too many terms can have the same result as too many prunes.