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Making some offices appointive, others term-limited good ideas

Even if unsuccessful in paring Orleans government, lawmakers seem to bring the same enthusiasm for state offices, as a review of some prefiled legislation shows. All in all, they would eliminate the lieutenant governor entirely, make the secretary of state appointive, and set term limits for all executive elected offices save the governor’s at three consecutive terms (the governor’s remaining at two).

These constitutional amendments may well pass. All are introduced by Republicans in a state where executive elective offices have seldom been held by them yet the electorate of which is continuing to move in that direction. Given a choice between making these two appointive or term-limited with others and allowing Republicans to capture them and/or stay in them or others for a long time, the Democrat-controlled Legislature (itself also becoming endangered as a majority) has a good excuse to go along with its minority.

The current lieutenant governor is looking for another job and his counterpart at secretary of state says he favors the relevant bill (and is not running for reelection), so they seem cool with it. Even professional political consultants, if looking at the aggregate, probably would not object to it: they may be losing a couple of million of dollars in revenue every four years without either office for people to run for (and buy their expertise), but having the term limits could make for more competitive races more often, which is where the real money lies.

Probably the only people solidly against it are good old boy fossils such as Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom, who has used his seven terms in that job as the platform to make him the most powerful man among state Democrats. Elective positions below governor with no limits on service provide ample fora by which to gather and keep influence.

In particular, he trots out the old saw about how elections serve as a kind of term limit. But that assumes that a beloved incumbent can do a better job than any newcomer, when in fact the longer someone stays on the job, the greater they risk become too alienated from the people yet can use powers of incumbency to take advantage of the majority’s inattention to politics to compensate – an advantage that grows as campaigning becomes more and more expensive For example, how many votes does Odom get simply because on every gas pump there’s an inspection sticker on it visibly displaying his name? Twelve years is enough for anybody, and I’ll bet out there are many quality potential officers for any elected post who can do as good, and probably better, than any incumbent who has held his office that long.

If nothing else, abolishing or making these jobs appointive (as many states do) will create more efficiency in government because their holders won’t have to waste time campaigning for election to jobs that, quite frankly, have little in the way of policy import. It’s something the people ought to have a chance on which to vote to amend the Constitution accordingly.

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