I have stated more than a few times my belief that term limits at every level of American politics would be a good first step towards having a government that is more accurately representative of the people. I’ve probably annoyed some poor bastard at the end of a bar (or worse, in an online exchange), by going on and on about how career politicians become jaded by spending too much time in financially corrupted Washington, and not nearly enough time back in their state or local districts with the people they are supposed to be working for. But I have to admit, that while I still believe that we need term limits, something I read yesterday made me appreciate the possible risks on the other side of that coin.
Embarrassingly, it’s a risk that I’ve joked about in the past but somehow missed the reality of its potential.
This week Florida governor Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have provided 1.6 million dollars in funding for Rape Crisis Centers across his state, a move that seems to outrage his detractors even more because it happened during Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Reading about Rick Scott making yet another unpopular decision didn’t surprise me at all. What surprised me was being able to read the comments section of the article and observe the unbelievable…Near Consensus. Not consensus as in total agreement, but rather in a lack of conflict. There was no snarky arguing. Everyone’s comments ran along the lines of “how did he even get elected”, or “why would any women want to vote for him,” or why does it seem like the Republican Party is “trying to lose all of its independent supporters.”
I read a lot of online news and opinion articles from a number of sources, and seeing so much calm in the comments section of a political article is unheard of. Whether it be Fox News or MSNBC, CNN or HUFF POST, the comments section is almost always an over-the-top and unnecessarily aggressive collection of personal jabs towards those with opposing views, grandiose preaching against the “true enemy,” and near delusional warnings of the apocalyptic result of voting for the wrong presidential candidate. Oh, and the Ron Paul supporters. They have apparently called an unofficial and never-ending meeting to be held in the “comments” section of every news article remotely related to national politics. “Ron Paul 2012.” I get it. If I don’t support Dr. Paul, I must not understand.
Now, I’m not a Florida resident (thankfully) and I don’t have any reliable information about the need for that funding. But according to the Governor’s office, “There was no information suggesting any needs in this area weren’t already being met.” And according to the executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, “We gave them information about the number of new survivors we have and we showed them that these rape crisis centers have waiting lists. We included quotes from the programs about the waiting lists and what services they weren’t able to offer because of a lack of money. There is clearly an unmet need.” I do not know which is true, but I suspect that it’s a little of both. The FCASV probably provided what they felt was clear evidence of their need, and the Governor’s office decided that it wasn’t an important enough need to sign the bill that was passed by the Florida legislature. That’s the governor’s legal prerogative. And the good people of Florida did give him that power when they elected him.
How did they elect him? Why would women vote for him? Why does it appear that he’s trying to alienate so much of the public? Because low voter turnout in midterm elections means that fewer people are paying attention. Because the expected low voter turnout results in less detailed election coverage and he may not have had to voice his opinions about women‘s issues. And because he doesn’t need the public support unless he actually wants to get re-elected.
The short answer is because of the Tea Party. And the fact that as an organization, they are smarter than people want to admit. Rick Scott is just one of several U.S. governors who swept into office in the 2010 election cycle due in large part to Tea Party support. The Tea Party’s grassroots organization is a small minority of people in this country, but with fewer people participating and a well-organized voter outreach network, that minority can heavily influence state elections.
The Tea Party’s presidential choices are still being chased from the scene early, and rightfully so. But that quick dispatch of their national candidates might be giving people the illusion that they’re stupid. On the contrary, they wisely moved their fight to the lesser observed state elections and took advantage of the midterm election. And they will likely try it again in 2014 while everyone is watching Dancing With The Stars and complaining about the horrible job the current president is doing-no matter who wins this year.
Scott (who 15 yrs ago collected roughly 350 million dollars to resign as CEO of Columbia/HCA during an investigation resulting in 14 felony confessions including fraudulent Medicare billing), Paul LaPage, ME (supports teaching creationism in public schools, and doesn’t understand “how people, at least sane people, would want to allow transgender in our primary schools and our high schools.”), and Scott Walker, WI (who rolled back 2009 state tax increases on capital gains and the highest income earners, and cut state employee wages and benefits to help pay for the tax cuts) all enjoyed Tea Party support in their drive to the governors’ offices in 2010. These are the Tea Party Patriots trying to save America by keeping it from ever coming together.
Part of the Tea Party platform that I’ve always been able to appreciate, at least on a surface level, was the disdain towards career politicians. But I think they may have swung that pendulum too far to the other side and decided to seek out candidates that have no need or desire to be re-elected at all. Once in office they do not have to worry themselves with representing the people or running for office again, so they can just run as many of their right-wing initiatives through the system as possible and stall or kill as much of the legislation that they don’t agree with.
Rick Scott allegedly spent 75 million dollars of his own money during his campaign for the 133 thousand dollar salary as governor of Florida. And he wasted no time making a name for himself. He has been sued for trying to block a previously voter approved amendment to the state constitution that banned district gerrymandering. He rejected federal funding to develop high-speed rail even after a veto-proof majority of the Florida Senate asked the Department of Transportation to continue the funding. He signed several bills affecting women’s access to legal abortions including the infamous ultrasound requirement. He’s done whatever he wants. And if people want to re-elect him when his term is over, I’m sure he’ll accept it. But if they don’t, I imagine he’ll happily go back into the venture capital business and donate funds the next asshole’s campaign.
It’s the extreme negative possibility of the “no more career politicians” movement. And while I am still in support of term limits in general, it made me wonder if instating them would result in “final term activists” that would just use the freedom of not having to run again as a blank check to run their own personal agendas through the state’s legislative process as hard as they can.
I guess what I’m slowly realizing is that no amount of legislative rule or campaign guidelines or term limitations will eliminate selfish assholes from government as long as equally selfish assholes still vote.
I do however feel like it would be a whole other world if everyone that were eligible to vote did vote, and voted in every local, state, and federal election that they are legally able to participate. Voting only for the President while ignoring the rest of the ballot and all of the other elections is probably as close to doing nothing as you can get and still get that “I voted” sticker.