Thanks, Pat: 12 years in office long enough

Rep. Pat Strachota, a class act who served a big part of Washington County in the state assembly for 12 years, is stepping down in a time frame that probably ought to be a term limit for elected officials in Wisconsin.

Twelve years is about right. You need that much time to get the lay of the land in Mad-Town and to get anything done. More time and you become part of the wallpaper in the Capitol. You lose your freshness. You stop thinking of innovative ways of doing things.

Jim Sensenbrenner has served 38 years, way past his time as our congressman. He is certainly part of the D.C. wallpaper. He backed the Patriot Act big time and is now spending his declining energies trying to fix its over-reach by the Administration. His horse got out of the barn, and his is indignant about it.

Fred_RisserDid you know that we have the longest serving legislator in the history of the country? Fred Risser, who people in this part of the state probably never heard of or heard from, has occupied a legislative seat for 52 years and is running again. He represents Madison, serves as president of the Senate and seldom gets out of Dane County. He doesn’t use e-mail. (Probably a wise move in Wisconsin politics in these days of prosecutorial fishing expeditions.)

This is not to say that us old timers can’t do useful work. There are plenty of challenges to be met in this country. And experienced Golden Agers have a lot to offer in experience, resources and connections. The issue is staying in the same job too long, until it bores you and you bore the people you are serving.

Human institutions need to be regularly reinvented and that means new people and new ideas. Incumbents for life lose their objectivity and creativity over time. They own the old ways of doing things.

Maybe that’s what wrong with the economy of our largest city. Milwaukee is pulling down the overall progress of the state’s economy. Milwaukee has had only three mayors since 1960, all Democrats: Henry Maier, John Norquist and Tom Barrett for the last ten years and counting.

Tom Hefty, who has served on both sides of the aisle in Wisconsin government, spends some time in Denver with family, observed, “Denver business leaders believe that term limits adopted in 1990 were key in generating renewed economic growth in that city – now one of the national leaders in per capita income and job growth.”

Tommy Thompson was elected for four four-year terms as governor, and that was at least one term too long. Nearly everyone would agree that he lacked the energy in his last two terms that he displayed in the first two. He left in the middle of his fourth term for a cabinet post in the federal government, where he again showed some of the reform energy of his early yeas a governor.

It’s hard to step aside. You get to thinking no one can do the job better. You like the power. You like the perquisites.

As one who has stepped aside a few times, I can attest that the new person can pick up where you left off and advance the organization just as well. Or better.
So, let’s send a note of thanks to Rep. Strachota. She leaves on a high note. She is a social and fiscal conservative, and that agrees with a majority in her district. She probably could have been re-elected forever.

Many districts are so gerrymandered that many incumbents run unopposed. Incumbents have many advantages that scare off challengers. That doesn’t look to change, because both parties and incumbents think they are going to be in power forever and don’t want to change districting that worked for them. Hence, the only way to get healthy turnover is term limits.
For a variety of reasons, Strachota chose to not run for a seventh term. One had to be that there is a time to turn over the reins.

Before she leaves the Assembly in January, she could do her district and the state another favor. She could introduce a bill to put in term limits of 12 years for all elected offices in Wisconsin. It would require a constitutional amendment

Remember Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America? Republicans in the 1990s promised 12-year term limits. The GOP failed to follow through on their promise and citizens never had a chance to vote on term limits.

Colorado’s term limits passed with 71% of the vote.

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