Volume 13, Issue 42 ~ October 20 - October 26, 2005
Burton on The Bay
By Bill Burton

With Politicians, How Long is Too Long?

The tired old men.
—Wendell Wilkie campaigning against Franklin Delano Roosevelt: 1940

Four words were all Wendell Wilkie needed speak. The electorate knew of whom he was speaking, and what he meant.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for an unprecedented third term as president, and WW knew that more than a few voters were edgy about the prospects of a commander-in-chief running beyond a second term.

Prior to that, since the days of George Washington — who brushed aside calls that he run for a third term — no one had even suggested running for three terms. No law stopped a president back then, just precedent.

But the man who, running for his first term eight years earlier had said, “There is no indispensable man” was in 1940 trying quite successfully to create just such an image as he maneuvered himself to be drafted for another term.

After all, had he not led us out of the Great Depression, then shown his willingness to face up to Hitler who was already at war in Europe? Yet even within his own party, the Democrats, there were high profile members who had tried to discourage him, among them Postmaster General James Farley and veep John Nance Garner — both of whom probably wanted to run themselves.

Curiously, upon being re-nominated for a third term, FDR dropped his vice president of the previous two terms in favor of Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace. Was it that he thought two terms were enough for a vice president? Or that John Nance Garner wasn’t indispensable? Or had he taken offense that the veep had griped “The vice-presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm pee?”

In any event, what was good for the goose wasn’t good for the gander.

Well, Roosevelt not only got his third term but also was elected for a fourth term. But that fourth term he didn’t get to live much of. After Harry Truman became president and the war was over, Congress implemented the current two-term limit for the presidency.

10 Words in Contrast
Since then, many laws have been passed on the state and local level limiting term, usually making two terms maximum, to handle elected officials who wouldn’t do what Vermonter Calvin Coolidge did after he finished out the term of Warren Harding upon his death and served a whole term of his own.

A shy man of few words, in just 10 Coolidge told the press “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.” That was it, no explanation, nothing. So we’ll never know what he thought of term limits.

Two Terms Only on the Anne Arundel County Council
I learned the other night what another incumbent thought of term limits when I stopped by a rally at the Ferndale Fire Hall in Northern Anne Arundel County.

Community activist Pam Beidle is finishing up her second term in the Anne Arundel County Council, and term limits dictate she can’t run again. But she’d like to. There are some things she started and wants to finish and can’t, she said. Nor is she in favor of term limits. “The people know when an office holder has been around long enough,” she added.

We’ve not seen the last of Democrat Pam. Barred by the County Charter from again serving as a councilwoman, she’s gearing up for another campaign, this time for a shot at joining the House of Delegates in Annapolis. That’s a step up, but she said she’d rather stay where she is.

I had intended to ask Rik Forgo, the man who tossed his hat in the ring to succeed her, what he thought of term limits, seeing that’s what opened the door for his candidacy. But he was busy shaking hands with the 50 or so politicians and community activists who attended his get-together.

Sweetening the Pot
I do know one thing. If his wife Stephanie continues to bake cookies for his campaigns, he’ll be elected and re-elected. Then he’ll be ineligible and in the same spot as Pam is today. I wonder, too, what he’ll think of term limits then.

Over the years — in the earlier ones I covered politics for various newspapers — I’ve become accustomed to wine or more potent firewater and fancy hors d’euvres when pols get together. But not so on this occasion. It was lemonade, a pink punch, cookies, cookies and cookies. Hundreds of ’em, all baked by Stephanie.

I asked her how she knew it was time to turn off the oven and get some sleep, seeing as one doesn’t know how many citizens will turn out on a weekday evening to hear a candidate announce his candidacy. “I baked them until late,” she said. “Then, just to be sure, I went to Cosco today and bought some shortbread cookies and some other cookies. Just in case.”

She didn’t need to dip into the back-up stash, but when I left the piles of sweets were fast vanishing. I’ll wager many in attendance didn’t eat much supper later in the evening. Oh, yes, if you hear of a campaign stop by Rik in which refreshments will be served, head straight for the dark chocolate cookies with chocolate chips. You’ll forget your diet.

More Matters of Taste
Now, back to the sweet, bitter and bittersweet: term limits. Are they good, bad, or in between? I would guess it depends on the office holder.

Though a Democrat, I was thankful for term limits when they applied to Parris Glendening. Had he been eligible to run for a third term, he just might have won again — and think of the financial pickle the state would be in today. If Janet Owens could run and win a third term, we’d be up to our heads in financially troubled golf courses. She’s in over her head.

On the other hand consider Louis Goldstein, whose term after term after term stint as state comptroller made many millions
for Maryland and kept us on a fiscally responsible course. Or William Donald Schaefer the perennial mayor of Baltimore, probably the best (with the possible exception of Ted McKeldin) the city ever had.

There’s Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who West Virginians have sent to Washington almost since time began — and will continue to do so because he brings pork to his state.

I recall interviewing Sen. Theodore Francis Greene, then well into his 90s. He was so far out of it, his aides answered all questions for him, then helped him out of his chair. But he was so beloved by Rhode Islanders that no one wanted to vote against him.

Then there’s Strom Thurmond …
I find it curious that from the highest, the presidency, to the lowest, councilmen, many offices across this land are term limited. In between is Congress, the highest authority in law-making, and its members remain exempt. They’re setting an example, but is it a good example? Or a bad example?

Enough said.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.