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Say no to term limits

If something backfired the first time, why would you try it again? That's the question for Oregon voters who in November will be asked to impose term limits on state legislators.

Measure 45 would restore term limits originally installed by Oregon voters in 1992. The courts ultimately overturned that law, saying the original ballot measure violated Oregon's single-subject rule for such measures, but not before real damage was done.

Now, a group largely backed by out-of-state money is trying to persuade Oregonians again that legislators should be allowed to serve no more than six years in the Oregon House and eight years in the Oregon Senate - or a total of 14 years altogether.

To be sure, this measure has some appeal: get rid of "career politicians" and bring "fresh perspectives" to the statehouse.

The problem is we've already taken this baby for a test drive and its performance didn't match the sales hype. Oregon's brief experience under term limits swept away legislators with the greatest knowledge of how to set policy and run state government. It replaced them with novices who, hearing the clock ticking, felt no need to build long-term alliances across partisan and ideological lines.

It's no accident that Washington County's clout in Salem dropped at about the time several veteran lawmakers came under the old term limits rule.

The county, and the sate, are just now beginning to recover from that failed experiment, as lawmakers like state Sens. Bruce Starr (a Republican) and Betsy Johnson (a Democrat) are gaining the necessary experience and perspective to break through the partisan bickering that has kept Salem in political gridlock for much of the past decade.

Oregonians don't need ballot Measure 45.

In every election, voters have the right to toss out an incumbent legislator who is poorly representing their district. The decision, however, ought to be made district by district, not imposed statewide by term limits. Don't succumb to an illusion that this measure allows us "to throw the bums out."

We tried that once. The end result was a more partisan, less informed and less effective legislature. Oregon just now is emerging from that unhealthy period. Let's not go back there again.