hay while the sun shines
_Hardly a week passes that we are not
reminded of how farsighted the Founding Fathers were and how improvident
we nearly always prove ourselves to be when we forsake their wisdom.
___ Take term limits, which we amended
into our state Constitution a few years back. The idea was that men
were inherently dishonest and greedy and that the people should be
restrained from returning men to office once they had learned the
ropes sufficiently to enrich themselves from the public treasury.
___ The Founding Fathers thought exactly
the opposite. Three proposals for term limits were debated and soundly
defeated at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Putting a limit
on the service of officeholders would discourage good behavior, said
Hamilton, Madison, Jay, Adams and others. Hamilton and Madison made
the case against term limits repeatedly in the Federalist Papers.
___ "Nothing appears more plausible at
first sight, nor more ill-founded upon close inspection....," Hamilton
wrote in Federalist Paper 72. At the Convention itself, after the
defeat of one such proposal, the brilliant Gouverneur Morris put the
case in colloquial terms that we can grasp today: "The ineligibility
proposed by the clause as it stood tended to destroy the great motive
to good behavior, the hope of being rewarded by a re-appointment.
It was saying to him, ŚMake hay while the sun shines.'" ___Certainly
since the adoption of term limits in Arkansas our lawmakers have made
hay before the sunset.
___ Legislators suddenly in the twilight
of their careers found ways to harvest public funds for themselves
through self-enriching legislation, the now notorious attorney-ad-litem
program being the most famous example. One senator just finished his
prison term for it and others stood trial. One of the first pieces
of legislation after the term amendment was ratified was to fatten
___ This week, state Rep. Bob Mathis,
D-Hot Springs, who is serving the last term that is now allowed him,
introduced a bill reducing the time that a legislator must serve to
qualify for a state pension from 10 to five years. That will make
him and other members of his legislative class eligible in December,
after engaging in making laws for a grand total of about 250 days.
Given the small sums contributed, legislative retirements are very
___ Mathis said quite a few legislators
would qualify under the present law because they had accumulated time
in other government offices before getting elected to the legislature.
The same bill passed the House in 2003 but was blocked in the Senate.
___ "I just don't think we ought to take
a few of us and be singled out as if we were pariahs or something
like that," Rep. Mathis said. "We are not. We are over here serving
the people." Last year, a term-limited Republican legislator who lives
just west of us and who ran for Congress in November on a morality
platform, was caught fudging on his legislative travel allowance.
___ He had learned almost from the time
he was elected that he could qualify for an extra check from the taxpayers
by driving a circuitous route to the state Capitol. And did you see
the fine story by Jake Bleed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Sunday
about the drinks and meals lavished on lawmakers by lobbyists?
___ Legislators can attend a 90-day session
of the General Assembly without having to spend a dime on a meal,
he wrote. You can understand, can't you, that legislators are not
going to be around long so they should be allowed every gratuity they