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We hear the term “citizen legislator” thrown out a good bit in the public discourse … usually by politicians seeking to ingratiate themselves with supporters of the limited government movement. It’s code language – a phrase intended to appeal to taxpayer advocates and supporters of term limits (as well as other common sense reforms).

But what is a “citizen legislator?” And assuming we can identify the species – how do we breed them?

Obviously we know what a “citizen legislator” isn’t. For example, despite her protestations to the contrary our current governor wasn’t one. And our current Speaker isn’t one. And our current Senate President isn’t one.

In fact good luck finding one at the S.C. State House … or the U.S. Capitol.

With one or two exceptions, they’re all whores … (some in more ways than one).

Anyway … it’s no secret what the problem is. The question is: Can we stop it? Can we ever get politicians to start caring more about our bottom line (and our future generations) than their own needs?

This question rings especially true here in South Carolina … where self-serving corruption runs as rampant as the perpetual government growth which fuels it.

Seriously … we’d drop dead if a South Carolina elected official (Democrat, Republican or “reformer”) actually did something out of a genuine desire to advance the best interests of the people of the Palmetto State. Typically the motivating factor is money, power … and of course, reelection. What ought to be the primary motivator – the public good – never enters the limited intellectual calculus of the typical state lawmaker.

Is this cycle impossible to break? Maybe … but maybe not. In fact the more we think about it, several ideas come to mind.

Obviously one of the best ways to eliminate self-serving behavior is to insist on term limits for state lawmakers – a reform this website has consistently championed.

But what else can be done? In recent months we’ve warmed to a two-step concept that’s full of promise – and fraught with controversy.

The first step? Raising legislative pay so that individuals who serve in the S.C. General Assembly aren’t compelled to cut self-serving backroom deals every five seconds.

Currently state lawmakers make just over $10,000 a year – an amount they can stretch to $30,000 or so annually if they maximize various expenses and allowances. We would propose raising this sum to $50,000 – $60,000 annually – and eliminating all expense payments (in other words lawmakers would have to pay for their own food, transportation and lodging).

Of course that’s not all we would eliminate …

Given their enhanced incomes, lawmakers wouldn’t need to rely on the sweetheart deals and state contracts they habitually award to themselves, their families or their companies. Accordingly, in conjunction with any legislative pay hike, we would institute a lifetime ban on any current or former member of the S.C. General Assembly – or their family members or businesses – receiving a dime of tax money (other than their salary and benefits, naturally).

Or ever becoming a lobbyist.

Sound harsh?

Then don’t run for office …

We’re not necessarily to the point of endorsing a specific proposal – but we’re definitely warming up to the idea of a legislative pay hike accompanied by some draconian lifetime ban on lawmakers feeding from the government teat. Along with a solid term limits bill, we think this one-two punch has real potential when it comes to weeding out those who genuinely want to serve others as opposed to those who only want to serve themselves.

What do you think? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our comments section below …

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