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Some Caddo commissioners show leadership on limits

Something to keep in mind as campaigns for fall races begin is who badly do incumbents wish to keep themselves in office. Last year's debate over term limits repeal by the Caddo Parish Commission served as a useful reminder of their utility and of the foibles about opponents’ arguments against them.

When the matter came up, pushed by then-mayoral candidate and Commissioner David Cox, it actually received a 7-5 majority, but as the parish charter mandates a two-thirds majority to put changes to it on the ballot, the motion failed. Those who wanted some kind of change included the two currently-limited members, one serving a partial term, one elected rookie, two career politicians (one on his second stint on the commission, the other a long time school board member), and Cox, on his second term.

One wonders why Cox brought this up, with no obvious impetus for a change being voiced among the public, in the middle of his Shreveport mayoral campaign.
If it was designed to light a fire under his flagging candidacy, it actually may have eroded his chances further as it made him look to attentive voters like he was trying to increase his chances staying on the public payroll as an elected official if this mayoral candidate thing didn’t work out.

This illustrates why term limits generally are good public policy. Incumbents are able to draw upon resources that challenges cannot, providing a structural advantage to their reelections. This becomes a public policy problem as this makes it easier for politicians to ignore public input. The propensity for this happening depends on several factors, but one major one is the level of office. That is, when concerned with local offices where resource asymmetries between incumbents and challengers are greater and information about candidates become sparser, the incumbent advantage grows and sets the stage for greater detachment by politicians from the people they are supposed to serve.

Thus, limits particularly are a good idea for local offices. Except if you are a local official, according to one commissioner who favored putting it on the ballot, who said he had evolved away from a misspent youth as a conservative reformer. “I was young, in my early 30s and got caught up in that,” said Commission Pres. John Escudé, a Republican, describing his former apparent support for the concept as well as other conservative ideas such as the Contract for America popularized by national Republicans during his first run for office.

At the time he had refused to endorse a similar document at the local level, and I suppose that was a good thing for him since his long service on the Commission (almost two full terms, then elected again in 2007) has instructed him never to abide by a principle that he can’t discard when convenient. Which only goes to prove correct what his opponent in that election (yours truly) had warned, that he would go whichever way the wind blew in order to keep himself in office.

Another supporter, term-limited Commissioner Carl Pierson, showed genuine difficulty in separating whimsy from theory. He argued that three consecutive four-year terms was arbitrary to be unable to continue in office, saying there was something wrong in having somebody new on the job if “you've done a fine job.” What Pierson seemed unable to fathom is perception of how the job was being done unfairly could be manipulated by the additional resources incumbents had. It also insulted everybody in his district with its implication that a newcomer from it could not do as good of a job as he. Why would deliberately infusing new blood through term limits be a bad thing otherwise?

A term-limited supporter trying to continue her elective career with a run for Shreveport’s City Council, Rose McCulloch with an appeal to a divine right to rule. “I really feel that God is not through with me yet," McCulloch said during last year's campaign, contemplating an unthinkable loss and how then she would have to end her Commission career for now because of limits. “I have more work to do.”

While many may argue that the Deity might do local public policy a better service by denying her any future elective role in government, McCulloch seems blissfully unaware that there is life outside being on the Commission, or being an elective official, and numerous opportunities to serve the community without staying in elective office forever. Besides, the term limit is for consecutive terms; if she so burns to serve on the Commission, why not sit out at least a term and then offer her services to the voters again? McCullough avoided these horrible outcomes by winning.

One of the opponents of the measure, Vice Pres. Ken Epperson, did actually sit out and come back, who along with rookies Doug Dominick, Matthew Linn, Sam Jenkins (who also ran for and won a seat on the Shreveport City Council), and the body’s maverick now in her second term, Stephanie Lynch, who had the wisdom to keep a good thing in place. Leadership is when, on behalf of the public, elected officials step up to do something that may not be in their seeming best interests but is in the public’s. At least these five showed the Commission is not bereft of this quality on this issue -- and as such show greater merit than those who are eligible to serve starting next year but voted the opposite to be returned by voters this fall.

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