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At Governor Holden’s monthly Pizza and Politics forum Wednesday evening, Ed Martin, the Republican challenging Russ Carnahan next year, and Chris Kelly, a Democratic representative who was elected in Columbia just last year, faced off on the question of term limits.

Kelly spoke first. Because he had previously served in the legislature for twelve years in the eighties and early nineties, he had the historical knowledge to appreciate how the House differs from what it used to be. His main argument was that term limits destroy necessary institutional memory and depth of knowledge. Bitter partisanship fills the gap left by departing long term legislators.

Kelly pointed out that currently, each party caucuses with its members twice a week, and they use those occasions to “throw each other partisan red meat” and “inflame sectarian passion.” In the past, he says, representatives had served with each other sometimes for decades. It was harder to characterize someone as a mindless Republican shill if you had been to his daughter’s wedding.

And people voted their own conscience instead of lock stepping with their party.

“In the bad ole days before we had term limits, we caucused twice a session because no one in their right mind would go to the caucus and listen to their political party tell them how to vote.” Kelly maintained that if the party had tried to tell them how to vote, legislative giants like John Schneider and Wayne Goode would have said something like “‘Go to hell. I know what I’m supposed to do. I’ve been on this issue for many, many years. I understand the issue very well. I’ve spent my entire adult life studying it, and I’m gonna decide how I’m going to vote based on that store of knowledge.'”

The video clip begins with Kelly describing how much less today’s legislators know:

I post his pledge for the record. But I don’t expect it to be put to the test with a win next year.