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Letter to the Editor: Lessons of Our Founding Fathers

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When American democracy was formed, many of its Founding Fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, supported term limits, "to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office…." as Jefferson wrote. The recommendations weren't, ultimately, included in the Constitution because the Founding Fathers saw a tradition of rotation forming.

George Washington set the precedent of two terms in the White House and those in Congress so abhorred the idea of political power that a natural changing of the guard occurred until the turn of the 20th century. Representatives couldn't wait to dispose of their duties as it was commonly held that "contact with the affairs of state is one of the most corrupting of the influences to which men are exposed," wrote author James Fenimore Cooper.

I believe the City Attorney has lost sight of an important lesson taught by our Founding Fathers which was ‘term limits’. John Dalberg-Acton stated, “All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

At the recent candidate forum the City Attorney talked about forming a team with three council members, a council member candidate and a city clerk candidate. Wow! Talk about losing sight on why you were elected. San Bernardino citizens would desire the only team the City Attorney mention forming is a team of lawyers to defend the City in which he was elected to serve as its top attorney.

Alexander Hamilton once stated, “A fondness for power is implanted in most men, and it is natural to abuse it when acquired.” Serving six terms as a city attorney is too long a time to amass power and 24 years is also a long time to practice abusing it as well. James Madison said, “The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.”

The fundamental truth is, as the elected City Attorney, it’s very easy to pick and choose what lessons of history to follow. It’s convenient to choose the lesson, apply it, and then frame the argument to support the case. Mark Twain stated that, “Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often and for the same reason.”

As a self-proclaimed student of history the City Attorney should not ignore one of the greatest lessons passed down by our Founding Fathers - term limits. George Washington said it best and I quote, “The people must remain ever vigilant against tyrants masquerading as public servants.”

Rikke Van Johnson
San Bernardino City Councilman 6th Ward

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