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Sunday, October 6, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Initiative 553 -- No: -- Should Lawmakers' Terms Be Limited?

There is no question that the American public is frustrated with our political system - and with good reason. The public sees special-interest politics dictating public policy and influencing elections. The public is frustrated with elected officials and the growing list of problems that our political system is failing to address.

The term-limit initiative won't solve these problems. It is a radical, simplistic remedy to a very complex problem. Initiative 553 doesn't deal with the obscene amount of money spent on political campaigns or the influence of special interests on campaigns. We need campaign spending limits - not term limits. The League of Women Voters is preparing an initiative to limit campaign contributions and spending. That's the reform measure we need.

We have term limits now. They are called elections. Now WE choose which officials to keep and which have been in office too long, and voters in Washington exercise that right frequently. Between 1979 and 1989 we turned over 81 percent of our Legislature. Almost a quarter were new in 1991. In the last election, eight new state senators were elected in 24 districts; six of those eight new senators defeated incumbents. Do you want to give up the right to choose the most effective candidate?

Term limits not only take away our choices - they guarantee that we will lose our best legislators, as well as those who are mediocre. They also will guarantee that there is no institutional memory in our elected bodies. They will likely increase the influence of lobbyists and staff who do have an institutional memory.

Supporters claim that limits will create political competition. A more likely result is a decrease in competition. If incumbents must leave office every 6 or 8 years, why would candidates run against them? They can wait a few years and run for an open seat.

Totally eliminating Washington state's seniority in Congress - and the chance of developing any clout in the future - puts the economy of this state at risk.

Unless all states limit terms, we are putting ourselves at an unfair disadvantage in Congress. If we want to change the rules, we need to change them for everyone - not just Washington state. If Initiative 553 passes, we will be the only state in the nation to so limit our congressional delegation.

Colorado is the only other state that has passed limits, and they do not go into effect for several years. Term-limit initiatives will probably be on the ballot in several other states next year - but 29 states don't have access to an initiative process. They will never have the issue on their ballots. We are putting ourselves at the mercy of those states who continue to re-elect their members of Congress.

This is the year of the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Much of the Western world is celebrating a rebirth of democratic values. And we are considering throwing away one of our most fundamental rights in a democracy - the right to vote for the candidate of our choice. Preserve that right to choose.

Margaret Colony is president of the League of Women Voters of Washington.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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