A legislative committee recently approved an initiative to place a term limit of 12 years upon county commissioners.
There is little doubt that term limits on Oklahoma legislators was a key factor in breaking up the old guard, evil empires and political machines — a time when lifetime politicians adversely dominated Oklahoma politics.
The people of Oklahoma made our state the first to pass term limits and did so based on their frustration with the fact that bad politicians could stay in power by attempting to direct largess to their constituencies who were then less likely to vote them out of office.
As a member of the House of Representatives, I have had a front row seat to see wave after wave of politicians hit the term limit wall of 12 years. It’s very difficult for these individuals to reach that wall without having been co-opted in some way. I have concluded that 12 years in office provides an excellent stopping point for keeping citizen legislators from transitioning into co-opted career politicians.
I enjoyed the opportunity to be the House author of the bill that successfully sought to apply the term limits concept to statewide elected officials and have thus cared greatly about this topic.
It’s time for term limits to take the next step. So far county government hasn’t experienced the benefits of term limits reform. Several days ago, the Government Modernization Committee approved the plan to apply the 12-year term limit to county officials as well.
Notably, commissioners are much better positioned than their legislative counterparts to use their power to stay in office.
Commissioners have direct access to the resources of the county, with few checks and balances to stop them from rewarding supporters and punishing enemies. This puts each commissioner’s constituency in a precarious position. They may be afraid to publicly oppose a co-opted commissioner who could withhold much needed resources from their area. Those trapped under the tyranny of a co-opted commissioner may realize he has locked down a strong support base by providing favors and special treatment to a majority at the expense of the minority. For these individuals, the application of term limits would provide a welcome relief.
That’s just part of what makes this proposal so important.
You may recall the famous quote, “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” People are not naturally equipped to be career politicians. Constantly being treated like a VIP and feeling important ruins many good people. It’s almost impossible to withstand the tremendous pressure of the constant limelight to which many politicians become addicted. To feed this addiction, they become co-opted by, and hostages to, their own pride, selfish ambition, situational ethics, cynicism, greed, special interests and narcissism. Their previously held values and principles become secondary to this array of highly corrupting factors.
Many elected officials succumb to these temptations, whether it is at the state or county level.
It may take a while to win final approval for the term limits proposal but until that time voters are well advised to provide extremely intensive scrutiny to any official who attempts to stay in office beyond a 12-year time period.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at email@example.com.