As a political science major and political junkie, I’ve long been interested in the issue of creating term limits for politicians. I read a piece recently in the Boston Globe restating that.
Jeff Jacoby’s January 12 opinion piece, “The case for term limits is as strong as ever,” says, “The case for term limits is straightforward: Men and women cannot be trusted for too long with too much power.
“That is why presidents may be elected to a maximum of two terms, why the governors of 36 states are term-limited, why 15 states impose term limits on legislators, and why nine of the ten largest cities, including New York and Los Angeles, apply term limits to their mayors and (in most cases) city councilors. Power not only tends to corrupt; it tends to do so fairly quickly. Term limits are a check on that corruption.”
I cannot disagree with this, although it’s been my observation that most politicians who are term-limited end up either running for a different office or are appointed to another post. Indeed, 47 current US Senators had previous House service.
On the other hand…
Still, I was interested in the pushback to the column, most of which I also agree with. One writes, “readers of the recent Neal Gabler book ‘Against the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Rise of Conservatism, 1976-2009’ would probably disagree.
“If Jacoby had his way, term limits would have deprived the people of the Commonwealth of the decades of excellent public service that we enjoyed thanks to the labors of long-term officeholders such as Senator Kennedy, Senator John Kerry, and House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill.” And, might I add, Nancy Pelosi, whose experience allowed her to be an effective Speaker of the House.
“Experience matters in mastering the intricacies of most fields, including government. Cookie-cutter solutions such as term limits may seem superficially appealing, but they fail to address the problem of persuading good people to go to and stay in Congress.” Yes, it usually takes a while to figure out what the job is. Institutional memory has value.
Another says, “Jacoby looks to term limits to resolve his concerns over the advantages of incumbency rather than to campaign financing laws and to the end of gerrymandering.” Those, the reader suggests, are the real villains, not incumbency per se.
I came across this report by the Congressional Research Service. “The average length of service for Representatives at the beginning of the 117th Congress was 8.9 years (4.5 House terms); for Senators, 11.0 years (1.8 Senate terms). ” Yes, there are indeed people who have stayed too long – Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), for one.
Beware the lobbyists
This comment most resonated with me: “Imposing term limits is also a recipe for lobbyist domination. Since lobbyists don’t have term limits, and they gain expertise at their jobs, they’d be even better at outmaneuvering legislators than they are now.” Also, the lobbyist pool sometimes comes from previously elected officials.
“It’s been said that we already have term limits; they’re called elections. What we need is better, fairer elections: ranked-choice voting, public campaign financing, a repeal of the Citizens United decision so that we can limit money in elections, and so on.
“There are plenty of ways to improve our democracy. Kicking out the folks who know how to make it work isn’t one of them.”
However, I’m willing to be convinced that creating term limits will be the panacea that will create a more robust democracy. And, if there were something less than lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court, I could get behind that.