Larry Frankel on Term Limits

Shortly before his promotion to the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union, Larry Frankel,Legislative Director of the ACLU for Pennsylvania, testified before the Speaker's Commission on Legislative Reform, on which I served, on April 26,2007. Here's what he said about term limits:

"The ACLU does not support efforts aimed at reducing the size of the legislature or setting term limits. We believe that both of these "reforms" are misguided attempts that would only result in a loss of wisdom, expertise and years of institutional memory by forcing legislators out of office even though the voters have not ousted them.

"I have come to appreciate, in my many years of lobbying, that legislators do learn a lot over the years. They study bills, attend hearings, speak with constituents, take advantage of other educational opportunities and develop a sound understanding of policy, procedure and how to build a consensus among those with conflicting views and interests. Why would we want to sacrifice that kind of experience? In what other line of work would we devalue those who have put in years to master their trade?

"Furthermore, as someone who has lobbied the Pennsylvania General Assembly for more than 14 years, I believe that term limits end up enhancing the power of folks like me. In fact, it might be more appropriate (although undoubtedly unconstitutional) to establish term limits for lobbyists. After all, if term limits are adopted, it would be the lobbyists and longtime staff would have the knowledge about how bills become laws and how the process really works. To me, this sounds like giving way too much power to the unelected."

Larry went on to become the national director for state legislation at the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, before dying in the course of jogging in Washington, D.C. last year. He was a man deeply involved with the progressive communities of Philadelphia, as the huge outpouring of grief on this site last year dramatically showed.

with all due respect

I had a lot of respect for Larry Frankel too. But I am not sure that invoking him is appropriate in the context of Councilman Goode's term limit bill.

Councilman Goode has proposed applying term limits to members of City Council. I have not fully considered the idea, but at first glance it makes sense. Especially since there is almost no history of Philadelphia City Council people retiring or resigning voluntarily. They usually wait for death or indictment (no joke).

Therefore I think Larry's comments about term limits in the state have very little bearing on this city proposal. For one thing, the lobbying force and permanent professional staff in City Hall is much smaller in scale than in Harrisburg or Washington. So the idea that lobbyists would get more power with term limits is sort of academic since I think you could argue they already have as much as could be attained.

Secondly, I am not sure if Larry would have been explicit about this, but my guess is that his opposition to term limits has something to do with nurturing or protecting Democratic majorities in state legislatures. In PA, more districts have turned from D to R than the opposite way round (Andy Dinniman excepted). It's possible that term limits would exacerbate that problem. Not really an issue in Philly because of one-party rule.

Which, as a third point, because of the size and power of the democratic party and the ward system, I don't think institutional memory and knowledge--such as it is--would be in much danger.

Last, speaking to the essence of the Goode bill, the idea that an entrenched career politician is risk-adverse seems logical to me. You only have to look at last year's budget process to see a Council unwilling or afraid to be visionary and contemplate bold solutions to city problems.

I am certainly open to learning more on this topic. But, again, it seems like Goode is on the right track. And reading the violent reactions of current Council members to the idea makes me think Goode has a tough fight ahead of him. It's one where we--as citizens--should probably get involved if it does turn out to be a good idea because I don't really see how it could pass without vocal public support.


i didn't realize there was a whole other thread on this. ditto to AJ, Josh and Dan.

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