EDITORIAL>>

Make 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 legislative perks.
___ 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 nice.
___ 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 can get.