What political scientists know that you don’t

Lots of stuff.  Foremost among them, term limits are really, really stupid.  Excellent piece from Seth Masket:

Colorado’s state legislature concluded its 2018 session last week. As was the case in 2017, this session was considered a productive one. And as with 2017, this productivity came as a surprise—a lot of conditions exist that would lead one to expect a gridlocked and unproductive chamber…

Why did this happen? How was the government able to have two productive sessions in a row? To no small extent, this was a product of leadership. Three key figures—Hickenlooper (D), Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran (D), and Senate President Kevin Grantham (R)—made productivity a priority. They conferred with each other extensively before and during the legislative session (as they did in 2017), helping to usher through bills where they saw avenues for compromise. They were able to leverage their expertise and the relationships they’ve built with their caucuses and with each other to create a good example of functional state government. [emphases mine]

Thanks to term limits, all three will be gone next year. Hickenlooper, Duran, and Grantham were all elected in 2010, and they’re all termed out this year.

Now, in fairness, the non-term-limited United States Congress is hardly a model of effectiveness these days. And longstanding politicians, even if they’re very experienced and competent, are rarely popular in concept. So when a bipartisan group of politicians from Beto O’Rourke in Texas to Donald Trump in the White House calls for congressional term limits, one can certainly see the political payoff.

But it is nonetheless an irresponsible stance. For one thing, as Jonathan Bernstein notes, when politicians start talking about constitutional amendments (which is what congressional term limits would require), it usually means they’re lacking for actual governing ideas. It’s a dodge.

In fact, term limits can be quite harmful: Legislative leaders and parties would have less power and expertise, leaving a void for lobbyists and bureaucrats to fill. Term limits mean usually a quarter or more of the legislature cannot run for re-election and are thus unaccountable to their voters. Working against expertise and accountability, term limits thus undermine the parts of representative government we need to function better.

Now, of course, Hickenlooper, Grantham, and Duran all emerged within Colorado’s term-limited system. It’s possible for term limits to produce other intelligent and creative leaders. Good results can occur within bad processes. But most of the time they won’t. And calling for term limits for Congress will most likely produce no change at all—and actually has a chance of making our government significantly worse.

Obviously, voters are frustrated because politicians seem so unaccountable.  The proper way to address that is to make elections actually more competitive– redistricting reform and sensible campaign finance reform (public funding is a great place to start).  Term limits are a short-cut that sounds good and is appealing because the other options are hard.  But empowering lobbyists and long-time staff over the politically accountable representative is not the way to go.

Photo of the day

I do love Volcano photos.  A whole gallery from the latest eruptions in Hawaii:

A 2,000-foot-long fissure erupts within the Leilani Estates subdivision, on the east rift zone of the Kilauea volcano threatening homes of hundreds in Hawaii, on May 5, 2018. 

Bruce Omori / Paradise Helicopters / EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock

Hope (in Republicans) for a better environmental future?

I listened to an interview with James Hansen about climate change recently.  Honestly, so depressing.  Probably, one of the reasons I don’t write about this topic more.

Anyway, not exactly reasons for huge optimism, but here’s a nice piece from Pew pointing out that younger Republicans are substantially more pro-environment (or, maybe less anti-environment) than older Republicans:

I found this especially interesting because it very much comports with my anecdotal experience, in that even my Republican students are somewhat liberal on environmental issues.  Kind of sad, that only 36% of young Republicans are willing to admit the scientific consensus on global warming, but at least that’s twice the rate of old Republicans.  And on basic questions of taking government action for environmental protection, they are substantially more liberal than their elders.

So, there’s at least some decent hope that we’ll begin to see more sensible environmental protection policies as older Republicans die off and younger ones take their place.

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