UNY in the News – Newsday OpEd

Did you catch our recent Editorial in Newsday? It’s time for Term Limits in New York to root out corruption and return our government to the hands of the voters!

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By Timothy Dunn

Guest essay April 8, 2024

It seems that every time we go to the polls, we’re disappointed by the candidates on the ballot. It’s not just the age of some candidates (see the combined 158 years of the two major-party contenders for president). It’s also about what happens the longer they stay in office, as we have seen with age-related health challenges experienced by such politicians as Sen. Mitch McConnell, the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and former President Ronald Reagan.

In New York, we have another concern about longevity in office — elected officials getting “too comfortable.” The longer in office, the more likely it seems bad things will happen — especially when they are virtually guaranteed reelection. This corruption happens because long-serving politicians became too powerful through massive special interest donations and started putting their interests above the will of the voters.

Over the last two decades, New Yorkers have seen not one, but two of their governors and a lieutenant governor leave office amid scandals ranging from corruption to accusations of sexual harassment. We’ve seen a state comptroller convicted of corruption, an attorney general resign over allegations of abuse, and an Assembly speaker along with two State Senate majority leaders (one from Long Island) convicted of corruption. Even though courts may have cleared some of these former lawmakers on appeal, the fact remains that the longer these electeds stay in office the more susceptible and riper they are to putting their wants and needs before the voters.

The way to address this potential for corruption is the way to deal with worries about age-related infirmities — term limits. For New York State officials, three terms of four years each seems right.

This guest essay reflects the views of Timothy Dunn, executive director of Unite NY, a nonprofit, nonpartisan movement focused on engaging and empowering voters on important issues of reform.

New Yorkers may like to call themselves progressive but when it comes to elections, this state has a long way to go. Consider: New York is one of only 13 states without term limits for governor. It’s not that voters don’t want term limits. My organization, Unite NY, polled 800 New Yorkers last year and just 10% said we were ahead of the curve on election reform, while 80% supported term limits for statewide elected officials. There aren’t many issues in politics on which 80% of us agree.

It might sound ironic, but there are elected officials currently in office who support term limits, including Gov. Kathy Hochul. In 2022, Hochul called for term limits for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller in her 2022 State of the State address.

At the time, she said the plan would “ensure New Yorkers know their leaders work for them.” While that proposal didn’t come to pass, there’s legislation in the Assembly calling for a limit of three terms for all statewide offices. This legislation would trigger a constitutional amendment, meaning it must be approved by two separately elected state legislatures and then by voters. We encourage the Long Island delegation to support this important bill and see it is brought to voters to approve in a public referendum.

While term limits are not a corruption cure-all, they will help. And they do guarantee more choices for more voices. We need more candidates with fresh ideas and new perspectives to run for and serve in office. New York’s Constitution was not written envisioning career politicians. Twelve years is plenty of time for any elected official to accomplish their goals in office.

This guest essay reflects the views of Timothy Dunn, executive director of Unite NY, a nonprofit, nonpartisan movement focused on engaging and empowering voters on important issues of reform.