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S.C Legislature's inability to end hidden earmarks helps make case for term limits

Lexington, SC - 03/24/2021 (Guest Editorial Todd Limehouse) - The recent news that four state lawmakers had secretly steered hundreds of millions of dollars to nonprofits to which they’re connected – via hidden budget earmarks – offers yet another reminder of just how badly our Legislature falls short. It’s a reminder of their fondness for secret spending, of the undercurrent of self-interest that remains just below the surface, of lawmakers’ indifference to cronyism, patronage and self-dealing.

It’s not just earmarks; year after year, an array of issues cry out for reforms that never happen. Six years after our worst corruption scandal in generations, our ethics laws remain appallingly weak… and legislators continue to “self-police” their members in lieu of real, independent oversight. The retiree pension fund faces a whopping $25 billion shortfall – a looming crisis that worsens with each year of neglect. And we’re among just two states where lawmakers elect judges; judicial selection is more about who you know than what you know. Each of these issues is overdue for reform. So why won’t the Legislature act? It’s largely because the system is dominated by career politicians. Seniority begets clout, and it’s generally those longer-serving legislators who hinder reform. They won’t shake up the system, because they’ve become part of the system. They prefer to play the game the way it’s always been played. Term limits – perhaps two terms for Senators and three or four for House members – would move our state forward by ending career politicians’ stranglehold on the process. They would help end politics-as-usual and make the system cleaner, smarter, more accountable and more sympathetic to the concerns of ordinary taxpayers. Term limits would imbue fresh faces and perspectives into the system. That’s healthy for government. Recently-elected officials, fresh off the campaign trail, tend to be more in touch with the views of average folks. They’re less-encumbered by special interests, and less-entrenched in the ways of the good’ ol’ boys. Term limits would curb the corrupting influence of money in politics, as lawmakers wouldn’t be repeatedly seeking re-election. This isn’t a radical idea. Fifteen states currently limit state legislators’ terms. And momentum has been slowly building in recent years for enacting term limits in S.C. -- which would mean amending the state constitution, thus require voter approval. In 2018, term limits legislation passed a state Senate subcommittee – a major milestone -- and all four Republican gubernatorial candidates supported term limits. And here in Lexington County last June, term-limits advocate Ryan McCabe ousted a longtime House incumbent in a Republican Primary. Voters want term limits. Polls show they have broad, bipartisan support. That support is particularly strong among Republicans and conservatives. Speaking of which, S.C. voters last November delivered big for Republicans – ousting five Democratic incumbents and expanding Republicans’ House and Senate majorities. Republican legislators can return the favor by ending the excuses and giving voters what they want. Those who put their constituents’ wishes ahead of self-preservation will commit -- at the least – to a serious, open-minded discussion about term limits.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Guest Editorials are the opinion of the author of record. They may or may not reflect the opinions or ideas of the staff of The Lexington Ledger. In order to submit one yourself, please see the EDITORIAL policy on the OPINION page of The Ledger at


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