Sometime after the turn of the century, California, Colorado and Oklahoma will show us whether term limitations enacted in 1990 have improved the caliber of their elected officials, and thus of their governance. As an already available substitute, in the January issue of Governing, Jeffrey L. Katz offers the range of intelligent speculation on the matter, and if it doesn't muddle your thinking on the subject, nothing will. This is a compliment.
Is it possible that, contrary to its purpose, term limitations might deter challengers, who might figure it makes more sense to wait out the incumbent's allotted few years? Could turnover actually decrease?
Or, Katz wonders, "Would people who are reluctant to break off their private careers to run for office under the current system be inclined to do so just because they could count on being back home in eight years?"
Some people quoted here argue that term-limited legislators would be more independent of lobbyists, staff and the capital buddy-buddy system; others believe that they would be even more enslaved, for lack of experience and knowledge, and seniority. Would such a legislature be more resistant to the governor and the bureaucracy, or more receptive to them? And which is better, anyway?
Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee compares tomorrow's California legislature to an airport waiting room -- "inchoate, without organization or leadership, where most of the occupants are either just arriving or just preparing to go." Cleta Deatherage Mitchell, a former Oklahoma legislator, is among the term-limit agitators, who believe turnover is a worthy end in itself -- and in a separate article for December's Mainstream Democrat, the magazine of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, she urges Democrats to make the issue their own, in Washington no less than the state capitals: "The unknown and unfamiliar are anathema to Washington, where the insider is revered. Unfortunately to most Americans, all those mutually beneficial relationships forged over years of service are exactly what's wrong with the country."
(The Mainstream Democrat: one year/$18. Write Democratic Leadership Council, 316 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, D.C. 20003.)
Meddling While Rome Churned The word "censor" was given to us by Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder, Roman statesman of the 2nd century B.C. and the Jesse Helms of his day, to judge from Peter Walsh's diverting essay in the February Boston Review.
"Deliberately abrasive, Cato's manner was laced with an affected crudeness and an acidic sense of humor that seemed calculated to irritate the patrician dignity of his opponents," Walsh writes of this early scold, the more famous Cato the Younger's great-grandfather. The censorious Cato was popular with the Roman masses and the dreaded scourge of the elites.
"Like Cato, Helms has attacked what he sees as a decline in morals by attacking individuals, although Cato, to his credit, went after big fish rather than artists and other marginal figures," Walsh writes, apparently neglecting the senator's run at CBS. Regardless, he leaves us with this message: "All the tendencies Cato deplored increased after his death. He failed to curb the Romans' love of luxury, did not prevent the rise of an elite class addicted to private vices and the pursuit of power, could not shut out the flood of Eastern ideas or arrest the slide of the Republic into tyranny and civil wars."
Boston Review is a sophisticated small-circulation 16-year-old tabloid bimonthly that, despite its address, conveys the sensibility (and many of the writings) of Cambridge. Among the reviews, poems and talk pieces in this issue are three other standouts: Sophie Glazer's droll essay on trying (and failing) to write a formula romance, "A Harlequin Affair"; Larry Duberstein's not-quite-farewell to his 1969 Chevrolet van, "Big Blue's Last Ride"; and a joint interview with Cambridge's engaging literary couple, novelist Anne Bernays and biographer Justin Kaplan.
For a year's subscription, send $15 (institutions, $18) to Boston Review, 33 Harrison Ave., Boston, Mass. 02111.
A New View of the City Reminding us of this city's formidable home-grown talent, Washington View for December/January showcases five black Washington women in the arts: blues singer Mary Jefferson, novelist Marita Golden, ballerina Virginia Johnson, diva Myra Merritt and, in an interview all to herself, versatile painter and teacher Lois Mailou Jones. And a man too, though he's only visiting -- the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger's current Othello, Avery Brooks.
Washington View, which was launched two years ago by Malcolm E. Beech Sr., is a growing city magazine with a broad editorial scope, from entertainment to health to fashion to travel to "feelings" on local African American life and leisure, including a lively personalities column, "Eye Spy." Subscriptions, 10 issues/$10. Write Washington View, 1101 14th St. NW, Suite 1050, Washington, D.C. 20005.
Among the Intellectualoids In the January Commentary, in the latest and deepest exploration of last fall's liveliest argument ("Pat Buchanan: Anti-Semite or Just Blowing Smoke?"), Joshua Muravchik stings his brother conservative with relentless citation of Buchanan's own many spoken and published words over the years. ... In the winter Brookings Review, Stephen Hess bemoans the sameness of local TV programming across the country, a failure of imagination that cable, once championed as the ultimately local medium, has only repeated. ... In Issue 3 of the American Prospect, Laura d'Andrea Tyson and Robert B. Reich debate the shadowy question of whether the interests of U.S.-owned corporations necessarily coincide with those of U.S. citizens. She says they do, he says in a global economy they don't.
Kasualty Korner (Kont.) A Magazine Reader favorite went down the tubes last week. Year-old Wigwag only has the money to publish one more issue -- February's. The announced closing was, to its founders, ironic, in that the magazine had been rather successful in attracting the "correct" advertisements (for cars and alcohol, chiefly) that usually suggest commercial vigor. But despite its editorial and financial promise, the independent Wigwag couldn't attract the private backers it needed to keep growing.