Testimony on legislative reform in Pennsylvania, hearing in Pittsburgh, April 19, 2007.
My name is Al Bennett. I live in Representative Chelsa Wagner’s district at 956 Pine Avenue in Castle Shannon, located in the south hills of Pittsburgh. I retired here with my wife Linda after working for almost 20 years for the California State Library in Sacramento. My wife is from the south hills and missed Pittsburgh every day she was away. I spent my high school years in Beaver County and am also very glad to be back in this extraordinary area.
While leading the California Literacy Campaign throughout the state of California beginning in 1983, I interacted regularly with the California State legislature. Although reform was an ongoing agenda item during those years, one change that occurred in the 1990s led to positive change in a particularly profound way. That reform was the imposition of term limits on both the State Assembly and the Senate.
I have been surprised since we moved to Castle Shannon in 2001 at the extreme need for reform in the Pennsylvania legislature. It is clear that the present structure has made election to the legislature an opportunity for personal gain that greatly interferes with the objective of serving constituents’ needs. By the time a legislator has been reelected enough times to gain substantial power, the temptation to put his or her personal benefits above those of constituents has become very great.
I saw a similar pattern when I started working with the California state legislature in the early ‘80s. But when an initiative was introduced to limit the number of terms a legislature could serve, I felt the loss of experience and wisdom would make lobbyists’ and staffers’ power even greater and I voted against the measure.
I must report, however, that I was wrong. Within the very first year that legislators became “termed out”, a change for the good occurred. The most powerful member of the Assembly, speaker Willy Brown who would probably never have been voted out by voters in his district, had to step aside. An amazing breeze of fresh air started to blow into the Assembly. I saw the cynical attitudes of old pros replaced by the enthusiasm of new, frequently young and often children of immigrants, newly-elected legislators grab hold of the legislative process. Instead of “that’ll never work”, we began to get “let’s give it a try”, and changes that could never have happened before began to occur. And they are still going on.
There are many reforms that could be introduced in Pennsylvania, and many of them would undoubtedly be beneficial. But one that I believe would have profound benefits quickly is limiting numbers of terms that an individual can serve. I urge the legislature on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania to make term limits its highest reform priority.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify this morning.
He speaks of his experiences in California about term limits. My position on terms limits is the same. I'm okay with term limits.
I'd vote in favor of term limits. I even said in the past that I'd term limit myself. You can hear that pledge in my background audio from 2001 at TalkShoe.com. Give us term limits as they'd make for a remedial measure that would serve us well.
Most of all, we need term limits in the mayor's office and with other executive offices. We have it with the PA Governor, and that seems to work well.
I wonder: What do the ones in the Pgh Contoller's race -- and the Allegheny County Controller's race say about term limits?