I don’t feel strongly about term limit initiatives, either way.
In an intellectual vacuum, I oppose them as the worst sort of voter welfare. But we don’t live in an intellectual vacuum. Professional politics is a massive and complex industry built around the ruthless distribution of power. It demands multiple confusing choices from busy and bewildered people. And professional politics generally rewards the campaigns that lie most effectively to voters.
Thus, it’s hard to expect even super-attentive voters to discern truth and make even marginally well-informed decisions — when the campaigns themselves don’t want that. This is especially true about state Legislative races, which are not really local and not on the television 24/7.
Party-based shorthand has traditionally addressed that information gap. But modern professional politics has also stripped all real meaning from party shorthand in favor of generalized grifting by the cross-partisan leadership and political class. Indeed, I think we’re in a moment of profound transition in the very meaning of our political vocabulary. Right, left, center, as words, are no longer grounded in any recognizable political experience. This is on profound display in the presidential politics of both major parties — and the “centrist” people who object to them both.
I think we have to name and organize around different political concepts. Grifter and not-grifter; self-critical and not self critical; intellectually/morally honest and not intellectual/morally honest; power-worshiping and not power-worshiping are the divides I see. Making choices in that context is a much much much harder task for a voter because campaigns and power lie, aggressively. And party or ideological labeling doesn’t help identify lies.
So I get why some voters want the law to make the choice for them at some level and limit the damage of any mistakes of understanding or omission.
Part of my Polk County political project is to create a new political vocabulary matched to a new political experience that makes that unnecessary. But we’re certainly not there yet. And sometimes, in reality, a term limit does provide a service.
What about permission to run against your term limit?
For me personally, I do this School Board job pretty hard. It occasionally exhausts me; and it consumes space in my life that I formerly filled with other things I love. I might even look forward, personally, to a term limit at a set point in the future. (Not a complaint; just an honest observation.)
A reasonable compromise could be for voters to create a mechanism by which an elected official can run against his or her term limit. It would be a similar process to the Supreme Court retention questions we often see on ballots. I think that could be done quite easily. Say I was set for a term limit in 2022; in 2020, you might see on the ballot, “Should Billy Townsend have the right to run beyond his term limit? Yes or No.”
Lazy elected check-collectors or sellouts could be humiliated by losing to no one. And popular, public-minded fighters could be empowered. Any takers?
Unelected power is much more powerful and much less accountable than elected power.
My preamble and compromise idea aside, there is one massively important common misunderstanding about term limits and power that I want to address. Everyone should understand it.
Term limits assume that elected power is the only power; and that is a disastrous assumption. Disastrous. It’s particularly disastrous at the Florida state legislative level. Legislative votes deploy real life-altering and life-destroying power. But with very rare exceptions, it’s not legislators who wield that power. Not even close.
Legislative votes are clerical formalities, carried out by “elected officials” with no self-respect. They are dictated by the three or four people (House speaker, Senate president, and maybe a couple of committee chairs) who ascend to real power not by winning tiny turnout elections, but by buying power from among their fellow “elected” legislators.
And they — these super legislators — are empowered by unelected power. Unelected power funds them, backs their quests for power, and negotiates with itself when it disagrees with them or itself on policy or the division of spoils. Unelected power takes many many forms. In public education, it’s all the stale, self-interested sinecures of the never-ending Jeb Bush regime. More on that in a second.
But understand this: Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran does not think he has the power to destroy the public school choice of 2 million kids because he once won an election in Land O’Lakes with 9,600 votes. (I won 140,000 votes in my only election.) He thinks he has that power because Jeb Bush’s Education Deep State cronies gave it to him; and no sheepish “leader” has been willing to try to tell him — or them — no for a generation.
You’re just kicking the dog — and empowering the Deep State
Thus, dear voter, when you impose a term limit on your 10,000-vote House representative because you resent her special parking spot, you are yelling at the clerk answering the phone about your insurance company problem. You are kicking the dog because you’re mad at what just happened with your boss. And making the boss more powerful. Understand that. That’s all you’re doing. I get it; but don’t let that be the sum total of your “Mad as Hell” act of resistance. It’s lazy and ineffective.
Don’t get me wrong; with few exceptions, your legislators are not your friends. They are mostly just sheep who gladly baaaahhhhh about whatever piece of educational fraud the unelected JebWorld wolves demand as the price for not eating them. Most of them are auditioning for some post-legislative gig that will transform them into highly paid, unscrutinized wolves lingering around new term-limited cohorts of sheep with saliva dripping off their teeth.
And so it goes.
If you happen to get an honest, combative, public-minded elected official, term limits make sure that state representative does not have much time to build the public pressure, political coalitions, and raw power needed to crack the corrupt Legislative process.
Term limits love unelected power. Term limits empower the “Deep State” at all levels of government. As I’ve said before, “Deep State” is not a mysterious or inherently harmful concept. It’s just the general community of non-elected professionals and advocates who work around government. It can be quite important and helpful. The Parks and Recreation director in your town is part of the Deep State.
But, in Florida state government, the Deep State is pretty horrible everywhere — but especially in education. It’s also deeply unpopular; but it’s hard to prove it because you don’t put it on a ballot.
Disrupting the grift is popular. Voters like it. And that’s a sin worth punishing.
And yet, Richard Corcoran was on the ballot in Polk County during the Red Weekend. “Should Richard Corcoran fire 1200 teachers en masse in Polk County?” We had a snap referendum on that; and Polk County’s teachers, with the massive backing of the Polk County public, kicked Richard Corcoran’s ass all up and down the I-4 Corridor. It was glorious. It was like 98-2, voting percentage-wise. The truest votes aren’t cast in elections. Always remember that.
We need many many more of these real-world snap referenda all over Florida if we’re going to save public education from Corcoran and zombie JebWorld. Confront. Defy. Reveal. Take power. That’s the model.
That’s because public education in Florida — and elsewhere too — is largely ruled by unelected people who have no term limits and no meaningful personal accountability other than Billy being mean to them on the Internet.
These people exist to kill the teaching profession and market/sell your kids as data or voucher fodder or anything that furthers the 25-year, mostly unelected grift. They are the Florida Education Deep State. And term limits are their intimate friends; believe that. Term limits have an almost erotic relationship with unpopular, useless, corrupt standardized testing and the anti-human grift of Florida education.
Remember, Rep. Melony Bell called for the governor to remove me and backed the 2020-Billy-Townsend-School-Board-Term-Limit-Act because I “disrupt” the Educational Deep State’s grift.
She said the quiet part out loud, which is always helpful: “With term limits, this is probably going to be the only way to remove him from office.”
Why is that? Why would she think the governor or term limits are “the only way to remove” me?
Because disrupting the Education Deep State’s grift in service of humanity is popular. Voters and the public like it.
Even in actual elections, the Florida public has been kicking public education-hating grifter ass all up and down the state of Florida for a couple years. This happens any time the questions of public education are specific and isolated and easy to understand. See this article for details. Public education is troubled and wildly popular with the public, at the same time.
Who the hell does the public think they are?
Florida’s deeply entrenched, unelected education power finds public education’s durable popularity utterly intolerable. That’s why it inflicts all the useless “accountability” and fraud on your children. It’s trying to make public education and teachers unpopular; so you, the public, will help them kill it.
And yet, people still love their public schools and their teachers, despite everything that Jeb Bush’s deep state has thrown at it for 25 years.
And the blasphemous idea that an elected politician would try to harness that popularity, weaponize it, and turn it against the Florida Education Deep State, as I am openly and loudly trying to do, must feel to them like a personal violation.
That’s how entitled and entrenched they are in a grift that harms your children’s lives every day. How dare you tell the truth about us and try to destroy our power openly? And with the help of the public. Don’t you know the public doesn’t matter? We are the Education Deep State. You don’t disrupt our comfortable grift and lives; we disrupt yours.
When you, as the public, understand that mindset; when you understand that Melony Bell answers to the Florida Education Deep State, not you; it becomes much easier to understand what she was trying to say in her support of the “Billy Townsend School Board Term Limit Act.” Who the hell does this guy think he is? Doesn’t he know the natural order of things?
Term limits isn’t the only reason for this mindset and this order of things — but it’s one reason.
In part 2 of this, we’ll meet a few of the monarchs and princelings of the educational Deep State. We’ll observe the unending length of their terms. These people have infinitely more influence on your child’s educational experience then you do. They have infinitely more influence on your child’s educational experience and well-being than either the Polk superintendent or me.
And you can’t touch them with a ballot or a term limit.
But you can touch them in other ways. I’m touching them every day. Trust me. Melony is proof. They seem to think the only way to get rid of me, a hyper-communicative elected official seeking to completely dismantle the corrupt and useless Florida Education Deep State, is with term limits. That’s a fact other elected school board members might want to consider — if only out of self-interest.