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Enough is Enough: Keep term limits in Maine to prevent political corruption

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

Power corrupts! In politics, a percentage of seasoned politicians inevitably develop The Tammany Hall Syndrome, succumbing to a carrot being dangled in front of them by lobbyists.They are secure in their seat. No one credible ever challenges them.

Thus they feel very secure in their elected position and, like every criminal, they feel they are much too smart and powerful to get caught.

Running for a political office is an honorable endeavor. While a few narcissists dream of making it a career, most candidates enter into the fray with good intentions. They want to better their community and state. They are willing to sacrifice a portion of their personal and family time to accomplish this.

When one is first elected to a political office, they enter bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to change the world. But after a week or two, reality hits. The smile goes away and that moniker—the title of the office you worked so hard to win—suddenly becomes meaningless when among your powerful and senior peers.

You now become a “seat warmer,” a party apprentice. Now you become property of the party bosses. You learn the rules: there is no tolerance for lone wolves. You are expected to be a team player.

Should you decide to freelance, your legislative bills will never come to the floor. Campaign cash will dry up, and you will probably have a primary opponent when you’re up for re-election.

How many readers know who their State Senator is? Even more difficult, how many readers know who their State Representative is? Let’s kick it up a notch. What committees do your legislators sit on? Can you name one piece of legislation they have introduced?

Lastly, how do they stand on the issues important to you? If you were unable to answer these questions, don’t feel foolish or get upset. Unless you’re into the nuts and bolts of politics, few people could answer these questions. The downside is most lobbyists can easily answer these questions.

But this is important information needed by each voter to arrive at an educated decision when casting their vote. Newspapers and broadcast news media should be reporting, daily on what’s going on in Augusta. If local TV can broadcast city council meetings in Lewiston, Auburn and Lisbon, why can’t the state resume broadcasting the Legislative Committee Meetings held at the State House? This would give taxpayers the opportunity to gain insight and gauge our legislators overall performance.

In 1996 voters overwhelmingly passed legislation to limit the terms of state legislators. This limited State Senators and Representatives to four consecutive two-year terms. They then partially circumvented the peoples’ will by allowing termed-out legislators to switch which seat they ran for: senators ran for representatives’ seats and vice versa. Or they would take a term off and run again for their prior seat. Was this what the people voted for?

Now there is a move in the Legislature by some members to get rid of term limits. Currently legislators have eight years to address lingering problems that face our state, such as the high cost of power, loss of population and a stagnant economy. After eight years, if you can’t seem to resolve these issues, then it’s time for new blood.

Our legislators enter office with the purpose of bettering our state. It is up to state voters to keep our legislators honest. We must deliver them from the evil that lurks in the shadows, ready to pounce should term limits be eliminated.

In New York State, the Speaker of the State Assembly Sheldon Silver was convicted of corruption and sent to prison for 12 years. He served in the Assembly for the past 21 years.

New York’s Senate President Dean Skelos was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to five years in prison. In the last six years, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has sent 11 New York legislators to prison for corruption. This while New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman focuses on President-elect Donald Trump’s efforts to disassociate himself from his many charities.

Closer to home, three Massachusetts House Speakers, Salvatore DiMasi, Tom Finneran and Charles Flaherty’ were naughty boys caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Let’s keep term limits in Maine. The last thing we want to see any of our Maine Legislators competing for is the “William ‘Boss’ Tweed Award.”

Lastly, kudos to Lewiston Public Works for their outstanding job in clearing Lewiston’s streets of snow and keeping them open.

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