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Omdahl: Does the North Dakota Legislature deserve term limits?

The ballot measure raises this question: Has the legislature become so out of step with the people that it needs an institutional makeover?

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The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the decision of Secretary of State Al Jaeger to throw out signatures filed to create term limits for the governor and members of the state legislature.

The measure is quite generous for those now sitting. All of the present legislators will be "grandfathered" in, meaning that all of the present legislators would have unlimited terms ahead of them. Only new legislators will be affected by the 8-year limit. So the measure will not have a major impact on the makeup of the legislature for years.

The ballot measure raises this question: Has the legislature become so out of step with the people that it needs an institutional makeover?

Because the Republican Party no longer has an effective political opposition, the legislature has embarked on a policy of giveaways without regard to pressing needs in health, poverty, education and families.

The legislature has been giving tax breaks that benefit the wealthiest of citizens. Our income tax is practically nothing but that is the tax that will be cut again. No thought has been given to cutting the regressive sales tax that falls most heavily on low income citizens.

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Instead of cutting taxes for the wealthy, we should be guaranteeing all children an equal opportunity in life by offering them a superior education. Right now, the legislature seems to be happy with a mediocre system. Many kids need extra tutoring. Teachers need professional raises, considering all of the new demands being imposed on them.

The cost of medication is outrageous and, in spite of all the federal programs, people are dying because they cannot afford preventive care. But then almost all of the legislators get free health coverage in the state plan so they can't relate to this problem.

Then there's the $8 billion stashed away for a rainy day. Well, the rainy day is here. We don't need to be a mediocre state. The present generation is entitled to a share of that money to raise the quality of life for all of the people of North Dakota and not just those who are getting the tax breaks.

Those who oppose term limits make several points. First, they claim that we will lose the benefit of institutional knowledge. Considering the legislature's track record, perhaps we would be better off without institutional knowledge.

Then there are those who claim that term limits would hand the ball to the bureaucrats and lobbyists. Let us not kid ourselves. Legislators already have cozy relationships with the agency people and lobbyists - especially the long-term lobbyists who help finance legislative races.

All of this may sound like calling for a "yes" vote on the measure. Not so. The measure will have such a limited impact on the behavior of the legislature that it doesn't make any difference whether it passes or fails.

Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@midco.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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Opinion by Lloyd Omdahl
Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@midco.net

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