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Term limits shake up black politicians.

Black elected officials who have struggled for positions of power in state and federal government are gearing up to face a new opponent--term limits. Last year, California, Colorado and Oklahoma approved term limits for their state legislatures, and as many as 15 more states may vote on the issue this year. What started as an epidemic "kick-the-bumsout" campaign in 1991 has expanded into what some believe to be a serious threat to black political power.

Voter disgust over a growing number of political scandals, such as 355 members of Congress bouncing 8,331 checks at the House Bank in Washington, D.C., over a 39-month period, is fueling the movement. Paul Jacob, campaign director of U.S. Term Limits, a Washington , D.C.-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, believes limiting the amount of time that politicians can hold office will benefit minorities and women.

He says research shows that 79% of the blacks now in Congress were elected to "open" seats--seats not held by an incumbent. Similarly, 73% of the women and 80% of the Hispanics in Congress didn't face incumbents when they were elected. "Term limits will open seats and give districts better representation," Jacob says.

Acklyn R. Lynch, an African-American political science professor at the University of Maryland, believes term limits are bad for politics. "It will result in limited power for the elected official in states that have term limits," Lynch says. "When you have politicians walking in and out of political office, they don't gain much leverage."

In California, the newly enacted Proposition 140 limits state assembly members to three two-year terms and state senators to two four-year terms. Once those limits have been reached, the office holder is barred for life from returning to the legislature.

California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown's appeal of the state's term restrictions was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in March. Brown, a member of the Assembly since 1964, will be forced to leave office in 1996. He maintains the measure must be rescinded because "black elected officials have been able to acquire and exercise power beyond their numbers based on the security of reelectability. Term limits will spike this technique of power acquisition."

In Washington state, a referendum on term limits was defeated last November. Political observers i nthe state say the measure failed primarily because House Speaker Thomas Foley (D-Wash.) convinced voters that the state would lose powerful leadership in Congress if it succeeded. Foley would have had to retire in 1994 if the measure passed.

An effort to place a less radical referendum on the ballot in the state of Washington is under way. The new measure would not make the imposed limits retroactive. Of the three states that have adopted term limits, none are retroactive and only Colorado applies them to federal offices.

U.S. Term Limits' Jacob says, "[The first] measure appeared to be punitive, and voters have indicated that their intent is not to punish their legislators."

National polls suggest that 75% of the voters polled favor some form of term limits. Referendums in Michigan, South Dakota and Wyoming have already been approved for this year. Twelve other states are circulating petitions and eight more states are lobbying for term limits referendums as well.

With limits for state representatives already upheld by the Supreme Court, term limits appear inevitable. The black community must begin producing a steady stream of qualified politicians if it intends to safeguard its future political power.
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Author:Stewart, Perl
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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