from an expert in the field:
from an expert in the field:
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Nick Tomboulides is executive director of U.S. Term Limits and the editor of their national blog at
Glenn Barkan is a professor emeritus of political science at Aquinas
College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
NOVEMBER 2014 The Costco Connection 27
WHEN THE framers of
our Constitution met in
Philadelphia in the spring
and summer of 1787 they
were very aware that they
had to rebuild the national government to ensure its survival. Their challenge was to strengthen the government while
continuing to ensure freedom and justice for
Their solution was to require regular elections and allow an unlimited number of terms
that an elected legislator, or even the president,
could serve. They believed, and rightly so, that
politicians’ natural ambition to be re-elected
would ensure their interest in doing what the
majority of voters wanted.
To illustrate their thinking, consider the following example. If the Honorable Senator
Hiccup from the great state of Cucamonga were
allowed to serve for only two terms he would
have no personal incentive, in the second term,
to respond to the will of the public. In fact, his
natural inclination would be to spend that term
preparing for his next job. It’s not the majority
of people you’re interested in. It’s, well, you can
guess. Is that how you want our legislators to
spend their time on your nickel?
This example is theoretical, of course. And
who cares what those folks in Philadelphia
thought might happen in an era of quill pens
and horse-drawn carriages?
Nowadays, those who support term limits
propose to take our most knowledgeable, experienced and popular candidates—people who’ve
done the job and demonstrated popular
results—and make them ineligible to win
another term. The only reasoning for this that I
can figure is that they know it’s very hard to beat
an incumbent with a new candidate—maybe
the candidate they want?
One good thing about our system is that
cities and states can try out ideas the rest of us
can learn from. We can avoid making the same
mistakes. If we look at my home state of
Michigan, which adopted state term limits 20
years ago, we can learn that term-limiting legislators has created chaos in the capital. Legislators
have six or eight years, and they are out.
Leadership does not have time to develop and
learn. There is no institutional memory beyond
four years. The net result is a weakened legislature and a power vacuum, which has been filled
by bureaucrats, lobbyists and interest groups.
We already have term limits. They are
called free and fair elections. Restricting an
elected official to a specific number of terms
will only make matters worse. C
POLITICIANS LOVE to
tell us we don’t need term
limits because elections
alone can shake up the
status quo. But the sad
state of elections in this
country is precisely why 75 percent of Americans
support term limits. In any given election,
according to Ballotpedia, an online encyclopedia about American politics and elections,
around one-third of all legislative races will feature a single candidate running unopposed—
usually a long-term incumbent.
Voters in those districts don’t have a real
choice, and their experience isn’t all that unusual.
Since special interests contribute $7 to incumbents for every dollar they throw to challengers,
taking on an incumbent legislator is too daunting a task for most citizens. They prefer to wait
for an open seat, when no special-interest war
chest will be standing in the way.
This is why sitting politicians face little
opposition and win 94 percent of their re-elec-tion bids, according to the Center for Responsive
Politics, a research group tracking money in
Term limits break this cycle by ensuring that
open-seat elections are held on a regular basis.
Studies show that these races afford voters more
choice and competition, thus forcing candidates
to be responsive to citizens’ needs. Most important, no incumbent can monopolize one seat
and turn it into a tollbooth for special interests.
Felon mega lobbyist Jack Abramoff once
said that lobbyists hate term limits, because men
and women who stay in office for decades are
“worth their weight in gold.”
Abramoff’s point shows up in donation
records for term limits campaigns, as noted by
TermLimits.org analysis. Whenever lobbyists
get involved, they dump money into which-
ever side wants to prevent, weaken or abolish
Professional politicians boast of their “
experience,” to rebut calls for term limits, but citizens
are right to ask: How far has that gotten us?
The knowledge of how to make backroom
deals in Washington isn’t helpful to American
families. Voters crave someone with the real-life experience of what it’s like to live under the
laws Congress makes. It’s precisely what
Beltway insiders lack, and what citizen legislators can provide.
The status quo has failed. Term limits are a
remedy that shifts power away from incumbency and back into citizens’ hands. C