Term Limits: Putting an Expiration Date on the Legislature Part 1

In this two-part installment on Desperate America we will be looking term limits for Congress and how it can be addressed in Hawaii.  The first part of this look into term limits will discuss the back story of the fight for term limits and where we stand today.  Term limits are not a novel idea.  In fact, the practice of limits for politicians date back to the great Greek and Roman societies.  The idea has been prevalent in many democracies throughout history.  Term limits center around the general paranoia of citizens towards their government.  The implementation of term limits have been used as a means to check the power of politicians and to keep a flow of fresh ideas to government.  The practice has not always been implemented but has always been discussed.

The United States features a structure of government similar to many democracies in history.  There is a ruler(POTUS), a legislature, and a judiciary branch.  American politics have always featured the three branches in an attempt to maintain a balance of power.  Each branch is expected to maintain the integrity of the other.  Whether the theory translates into actual practice is debatable.  The idea of term limits was discussed during the founding of the country.  Many of the Founding Fathers felt that it was important to prevent people from becoming to comfortable with having power.  They felt that term limits would be an answer to government corruption and from abuse of power.  Initially it was felt that all elected officials would have some sort of term limits placed on them.  For various reasons, the language was never able to be included in the drafting of the Constitution.

The idea of term limits was discussed during the founding of this country.

Since George Washington, the office of the President of the United States has come with an informal agreement of a two-term limit for the office.  Washington himself had initially refused to pursue a reelection.  The agreement lasted until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  FDR was elected for an unprecedented four terms as President.  FDR died shortly after being elected to his fourth term and the office would never again see anyone hold office for that length of time.  In 1951, the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution set the limit of two terms for the office of the President.  Since that time, a maximum of eight years has been placed on the office.  The enacting of a two term limit has drawn criticism from many that fear a President will see an erosion of power beginning with his reelection for a second term.  The thinking suggests that opponents of the President will choose to stall legislation until the current administration left office.  There has also been push to eliminate the absolute two term limit in favor of a limit on two consecutive terms.

The 22nd Amendment that set term limits on the head of the executive branch for the federal government has led to the adoption of the measure by state governments.  Currently, governors from 36 states in the Union are restricted by some form of a term limit.  The actual details of the term limits differ from state to state.  24 states in the Union, Hawaii is included in this group, feature a limit of two consecutive terms with eligibility after 4 years.    7 states use an absolute two term limit for the office of the governor.  The remaining states use various other forms of term limits.

Term limits for Congress has faced many obstacles through America's history.

In 1994, Republicans took back control of Congress for the first time since 1952.  A major factor in the Republican Revolution was a call for term limits to be placed on the members of Congress.  The idea was a very popular one with voters.  Republicans held a simple majority in the House of 230 seats.  However, a two-thirds majority of 290 was needed to get any measure passed.  The proposal was for a limit of two 6 year terms for the Senate and six 2 year terms for the House.  The cap would be placed on 12 years in either body of the legislature.  Many term limit supporters felt the proposal of 12 years was too long and support for the measure faded.  Republicans failed on multiple attempts to get the measure through.  During that time, many states enacted laws that restricted their federal congressional delegates to term limits.  In 1995 the United States Supreme Court ruled in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton that states could not impose restrictions on prospective members of the U.S. Congress stricter than those specified in the Constitution.

Our federal government holds the cards of the country.  With the economic meltdown, the government now has ownership in numerous industries.  The idea of term limits have reemerged due to the current climate and must be discussed.  Join us tomorrow for the second part of our look at the issue of term limits in our government.  We will discuss the pros and cons of the system as well as a look into the ramifications of term limits on our society.

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