I don’t often write on political matters – however, in honor of this historic Presidential election, I will make an exception. Term limits have been around for over a thousand years and are found in governments around the world. In 1951 the USA amended its Constitution to limit the terms a President could serve. Many States in the USA limit their governors and lawmakers to a specified number of terms. Russia, Mexico and other countries limit the terms their Presidents may serve.
For many years there has been a movement in the USA to limit the terms of Congressmen and Senators. Recently, this movement has gained even more traction. Some studies show that a majority of Americans want to term limit federal lawmakers – so why has it not happened?
The answer is very simple. Congress, while having an approval rating of around 11%, enjoys nearly a 90% reelection rate. Many Congressmen have already been there for decades and term limits would force them to leave office immediately. Why should we count on a person to vote themselves out of a job? Some people have proposed to pass term limit legislation with a grandfather clause for existing Congressmen. This way we get term limits and they get to keep their jobs – for now. As they lose elections and retire, the incoming Congressmen will be subject to term limits. While this may not be perfect, it may be the only shot at getting term limits passed.
Many folks feel that term limits would be good because they would put new people in office that are there to improve the nation and not just feather their own nests. Term limits would create a revolving door of new Congressmen that have not had time to be corrupted by special interest groups and lobbyists; they would have recently lived at home amongst their constituents and still be in touch with the concerns of the People. Term limited Congressmen would go to DC knowing they would not be there for decades and thus be less beholden to lobbyists. Perhaps if Congressmen knew they would only be there for a short time, they would put bitter partisan politics aside in order to effect meaningful change. Also, if they knew they would be returning home soon, to live under the laws they passed; they would pay closer attention to the legislation before them.
A person against term limits may point out that having a bunch of brand new lawmakers with no idea what they are doing puts the USA at a disadvantage when dealing with seasoned foreign Statesmen. The power is in Washington, DC because trillions of tax dollars pour into their coffers each year. If experienced, elected Congressmen are not at the helm, then the power just settles down into the shadows, and rests within a sea of faceless bureaucrats that are not accountable to the public. Restricting for whom a citizen may vote to represent his interests places a serious restriction on that citizen’s right to free speech and representational government. This ballot box restriction could be considered unjust – not unlike poll taxes and literacy tests. Term limiting a national office (President) is one thing; restricting who a citizen can choose to represent his neighborhood (Congressman) is something different.
Both sides bring up very valid concerns. While I like the idea of getting new blood in DC – I don’t like the idea of having a bunch of newbies that don’t know what they are doing making an even bigger mess than we already have. I don’t like the idea that the government will restrict whom I can elect to represent my interests.
I have a few ideas about how to solve the problem. The term limit bill should grandfather the existing Congressmen. Grandfathering solves two problems; first, we don’t have a mass exodus of experienced statesmen; and second, they will actually vote for the term limits legislation.
To address the concern of having too many inexperienced leaders in DC, we set the term limit for Representatives at ten years (five terms) and Senators at two terms. Ten to twelve years is enough time to learn how to do your job and adequately represent your constituents. If you can’t get it done in 10 years, maybe it’s not worth doing. The office will be term limited, not public service in general. So a person could serve 10 years in the House, then serve in the Senate for two terms, maybe he could do a few years as a Governor or State lawmaker, then do a term as vice-president. This way a person running for President has experience in many different offices, and not have his experience limited to just ten years in the House of Representatives prior to being President of the United States. I understand that we have had Presidents in the past that have had no real political experience, but history has proven that the vast majority of successful Presidents have had previous political experience.
Once term limits are implemented, there’s not much that can be done about the fact that you will no longer be able to vote for your favorite Congressman or Senator after they are term limited. The government will have restricted the freedoms you currently enjoy at the ballot box – namely to vote for the person that you believe best represents your interests. So you have to ask yourself, are you willing to surrender your personal liberty in order to restrict another citizen’s choice to reelect the same person over and over again?