Mark Neumann became the first 2010 candidate for governor to respond to public discontent with politics and politicians and put forward some government reform ideas, including a couple of good ones. Namely banning campaign donations from employees of companies bidding for state contracts and not allowing government employees appointed by the governor to engage in any kind of fundraising for the governor. Both should have been done a long time ago.
Others on Neumann's list are not so hot. Such as term limits for state legislators and constitutional officers. This is neither a new idea nor a particularly promising one. Something like 36 states have them for governor and 15 have them for legislators. Enacting term limit laws was all the rage in the early 1990s, but after nearly two decades the experiment has been a distinct disappointment.
In California, some label the state's term limits a failure. The Guvernator himself was once a big fan of term limits but has since changed his mind. Others, like the highly respected Center for Governmental Studies, aren't willing to give up on them but acknowledge that changes in the law need to be made.
Likewise, an analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California notes term limits have had some positive effects, like accelerating female and minority representation, but concludes that the law has not fundamentally changed the type of legislator who comes to Sacramento. "Rather than representing a new breed of 'citizen legislator,' however, new members after term limits behave a great deal like their precursors," the report says. It goes on to say "the Legislature is less likely to alter the Governor's Budget, and its own budget process neither encourages fiscal discipline nor links legislators' requests to overall spending goals. In addition, legislative oversight of the executive branch has declined significantly."
Closer to home, Michigan is another state that jumped on the term limit bandwagon. The law didn't bring the institutional change that was hoped for. A Wayne State University professor who wrote a book on the subject concludes that the main effect of term limits in Michigan was to make the legislative branch weaker and the executive branch stronger. She even places a good share of the blame for the state's budget mess on term limits.
One-time supporters of term limits have grown disillusioned with them in places like Colorado and Arizona too.
Mark Neumann is to be applauded for talking about how to make government more responsive to the average citizen. Hopefully other candidates for governor will follow suit. But Neumann and the others will have to offer up much more meaningful change than term limits if they are to have any hope of winning over a citizenry soured on politics as usual.