The Blame Train continues to roll through Michigan as Flint’s water crisis becomes a national issue, attracting celebrity instigators and the like. Much of that blame is directed at Gov. Rick Snyder and recall petition are being passed around the state. He’s not the entire problem; there’s a lot of blame to go around.
One angle nobody is really talking about is something we, as citizens, did 24 years ago, when we amended the state constitution to impose term limits on state legislators. While most people don’t see the connection, it’s a shadowy presence lurking in the background of all this.
Much of the problem for Flint’s water fell on the Department of Environmental Quality, a department that has expanded in power and authority over the years, like many other bureaucratic agencies.
One problem with term limits is it took away some of the checks and balances of state government. It created a perpetual class of rookie legislators who aren’t around long enough to see the big picture. The result is an empowered class of bureaucrats who hold the power in Lansing. There are no term limits for administrators running the state agencies.
In the past, long-standing legislators could see big-picture changes and problems with state agencies and had the clout and authority to do something about it. There was more legislative oversight of many of the state agencies.
Today, we have a class of mostly good people in legislative office who don’t have time to really witness how everything in Michigan works and truly understand it. They must concentrate on specific issues to maximize their effectiveness in their limited time in office. They are basically agenda-driven. I’d be willing to bet that most of the legislators had little idea what was going on with the DEQ or in Flint until it broke in the media.
True, the idea behind term limits was to create a class of legislator who is truly a citizen-politician. We wanted people to bring real-world experience to the Capitol, make a contribution, and then return to their livelihood. It’s wonderful in theory, but there is a case for building longevity in Lansing and having people in power with historical perspective and understanding. Those are now the lobbyists and bureaucrats.
Term limits have, to some degree, degraded our system of checks and balances and empowered a bureaucracy that many times doesn’t have to face legislative scrutiny because nobody in office really understands them anymore.
Would the Flint disaster have happened with veteran legislators in office? It’s impossible to say, but likely there would have been an expert in the dome who was connected to the agency and was in a position to “see it coming” and do something about it.
This is possibly one of the trade-offs with the “throw the bums out” mentality that drove us to term limits in the first place.
Perhaps it’s time to re-examine that decision.