South Carolina takes historic step toward term limits

May 3, 2018

Ellen Weaver

Former President & CEO

This week – perhaps for the first time ever – a Senate Judiciary subcommittee unanimously passed a resolution that would give South Carolina voters a chance to make state-level legislative term limits a reality.

Three GOP gubernatorial candidates stopped by to pledge their support for the idea, and I was honored to be invited by Chairman William Timmons to provide testimony. My comments were also featured in an ABC Columbia report on the hearing.

Often when debating term limits, it’s popular to bash elected officials as corrupt and self-serving. And maybe some of them are. But having personally worked in a legislative office, I have seen firsthand that the vast majority of lawmakers are simply responding to a system of pervasive and perverse incentives.

The fact is, our current system of seniority rewards those who keep their head down and don’t rock the boat long enough to ascend to a powerful committee chairmanship, which they can then hold indefinitely and use to dole out favors, rake in campaign cash, and in short, build up a personal fiefdom, if they so choose.

This is the system that has brought South Carolina stagnant K-12 education outcomes, a vastly underfunded public pension system, a $9B hole in the ground (VC Summer), a gas tax hike with no prioritized plan to spend it, and an unfair tax system stuck in an infinite loop of special interest giveaways and higher and higher rates on a shrinking base.

In short, a government of the powerful, by the powerful and for the powerful—while the little guy or gal just trying to make ends meet gets stuck footing the bill.

Are term limits the silver bullet that will correct all of South Carolina’s structural imbalances of power? That’s doubtful. There are still Senate rules allowing 1/46 of the state – or 2% of the population – to veto something the other 45/46ths might want. Our Superintendent of Education should be appointed instead of elected. Our executive branch should have more authority. And there are still far too many consequential decisions made by relatively unaccountable, politically-appointed boards and commissions.

But would term limits be a step towards realigning the incentives of office holding towards young energy and fresh ideas to move our state forward? Without a doubt.

We have so many wonderful advantages in this state we call home and it’s a shame that far too often, our outdated, moribund government systems stifles the full promise of our proud birthright. Term limits would be a hugely positive step towards breaking this stranglehold on opportunity and unleashing our state to reach its full potential.

The discussion is just getting started. With the legislative session quickly drawing to a close, the bill must be re-filed and considered again when the legislature returns in 2019. But we were glad to see this common sense idea that has broad voter support get some air time in Columbia.