Today we will continue with part two of our look into term limits. Today we will discuss the recent resurgence of the term limit movement and possible ways to implement restrictions. We will also discuss the possible ramifications for the country if term limits were enacted.
With the failure of the Republican Revolution to provide term limit legislation during the mid-90’s, the movement in support of term limits began to fade. Realistically, it was naive to expect lifetime politicians to limit their own power and length of service. Under current rules, voters need overwhelming support against an incumbent to get new ideas and new people in Congress. Each reelection leads to a higher mountain to climb for those opposed to a politician. U.S. senators have a term of six years. That is plenty of time to build alliances with other politicians and to secure money for reelection. If that senator is reelected, more money will likely be contributed to the politician and the cycle continues. The longer the politician is in office, the more power he/she is likely to wield.
Where do we go from here? We must first ask ourselves two questions. First of all, what do we consider a successful politician. Is a successful politician someone who gets many bills passed or someone who works towards what the constituents want? The second question has to be what we consider to be too long for someone to hold the same office. Is eight years too long or is twelve years too long? How much time is really needed to begin making legislative gains? The answers to these questions can really put into perspective our own goals for our legislators. If our legislator has many bills passed that he was a sponsor or supported, does that make him successful? What if those bills have little bearing on his constituents? We as voters need to take into account what each of our elected officials do while in office. If our representative listens to our concerns and makes efforts to have them addressed by the legislature, they should be rewarded by being reelected. If our representative does little to address the main issues of the area then the voters should put an end to their political career.
Many of our national delegation have had an entire career in politics. Sen. Inouye has been in Congress since the 1950’s. Is that too long to hold the same seat? Sen. Inouye has also brought large amounts of funding to Hawaii that has helped us in many ways. Do we want him to leave his seat? Term limits put an interesting problem in front of us. If a general limit of twelve years in put in place, how do we proceed with the politicians that are already in office? Many United States senators would be close to the limit of twelve years. Imagine half of the US Senate being forced to retire or vacate their positions. Twelve years is a two-term limit for the US Senate. Their appointments are for six years. The US House has appointments of two years. Perhaps it would be wise to implement a double term limit for our politicians to be grandfathered into the system. A twelve-year cap would be placed on all incoming legislators and those in their first term. If a legislator has is at the twelve-year limit or exceeds it, they would be allowed to seek reelection for an additional term only if their current term expires within two years of the law being enacted. The twelve-year cap would not be an absolute limit. Elected officials would be required to sit out a minimum of four years. This would allow for voters to bring back politicians that they deemed successful and deserving of another term.
The one big problem facing the implementing of term limits is the possible ramifications on policy making. Term limits could severely limit the power of any politicians attempts to make meaningful changes when they are nearing the imposed term limit. For instance, if a legislator’s second term is slated to be his last under the term limits, he would become a lame duck legislator. There would be less impedance on his colleagues to assist him in getting legislation passed. The problem of lame duck politicians is seen with the President of the United States and with governors across the country. A lame duck politician ceases to exist in the eyes of the political world. Another problem would be the constant shuffling of our politicians. How would issues like health care or immigration reform be affected if positions were not taken because of the constant changing of the legislature? Sen. Ted Kennedy fought for health care in America for over twenty-five years. That type of support would not take place in a Congress with term limits.
The use of term limits is an issue that still needs to be debated. The idea has its merits as well as its draw backs. However, the root of the idea is to keep a flow of fresh ideas and personalities in our legislative process. The idea is to have contemporary politicians tackle the new problems that face our communities. Maybe term limits aren’t the answer. However, it is wise to discuss all possibilities and to find the aspects of each that will work and benefit us all. The power of the voter will remain to be the catalyst for change. One person, one vote is the real mantra of change.
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