An accidental test for term limits


One of the enduring political debates in recent decades has been whether the nation would be better served if term limits were imposed on members of Congress as they are on the president.

There was an entire revolutionary political movement, the Republicans’ Contract With America in 1994, whose most memorable promise was to limit members of the House and Senate to 12 years in office. Once elected, though, most of these revolutionaries lost their enthusiasm for early retirement from political office.

Mississippi has never seriously approached putting term limits on state lawmakers, but it does impose them on two members of the executive branch: the governor and the lieutenant governor, both of whom are limited to two terms.

Not all that long ago, though, governors in this state were even more hamstrung, being allowed to serve for only one term before having to turn the job over to someone else.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that their possible length of office was extended to two terms.

Other members of the executive branch have no such restrictions.

As with lawmakers, they can stay on as long as they keep getting elected.

This year, an unusually large crop of lower-ballot state officials decided to impose term limits on themselves, largely because they decided to run for a higher office.

Going into Tuesday’s elections, it was already certain that at least five of the statewide positions would have new occupants. And two of the other three were guaranteed to have someone holding the position with less than two years of experience.

That’s a highly unusual amount of change for one election.

Just four years ago, all eight incumbents were re-elected.

It will be interesting to see how smoothly these wholesale changes go, as the newly elected bring in their own people and push their own initiatives.

The argument against term limits has always been that it punishes experience, normally a valuable commodity.

One argument for them is that it brings in fresh ideas.

Mississippi is about to have a decent test of whether new faces or old hands are the best way to run the government.