Term limits are our best bastion against career politicians forcing legislative gridlock, financial waste, and outdated practices. Rather than allowing political leaders to consolidate power over years, and in some cases decades, we must implement limits to refresh our delegation, encourage a flow of new ideas, and restore power to rank-and-file legislators.
Many lawmakers have taken a “politics as usual” approach that has made our legislative process dysfunctional and ineffective, and career politicians often represent the interests of corporate donors over their constituents. Ted Cruz said in 2015, “Career politicians’ ears and wallets are open to the highest bidder,” while Al Gore proclaimed that “The United States congress is incapable of passing laws without permission from the corporate lobbies and other special interests that control their campaign finances.” The system, between name recognition, voter turnout, easier access to campaign finance, and government resources, favors incumbents. Legislators can move up the political ladder by voting against the position they’ve advocated to their constituents, collecting pensions and incentives along the way. It’s easy to understand the allure of the money, and pressure from peers, leading even those who entered the system specifically to change it to succumb to it.
Elections alone do not constitute limits; people can become jaded and comfortable, convinced the problem is with the system and not the representatives that constitute it. Term limits bring in new ideas, modernize thinking, reduce leverage within parties, cut down the volume of outside influence, and keep the focus on speaking with the districts and constituency. That being said, term cycles are not long enough to get anything accomplished. With two year terms, the average State Representative campaigns 60% of the time and spends only 40% working. Positions like this should carry a 4 year cycle with a limit of 12 years, or three terms. If that maximum is reached, the individual should have to run for a different position.
McLaughlin & Associates, a national survey research and strategic company, found that 82% of voters support an amendment for term limits. George Washington served two terms and stepped down, laying the framework for Amendment XXII and 8-year term limits on the presidency. If the leader of the free world only gets 8 years, why should down-ballot candidates be allowed a lifetime? 36 states currently limit governors to two terms, and 15 have legislative term limits of between 8 and 16 years. In my opinion, 12 is the sweet spot. Three four-year terms give legislators just over a decade to implement changes, with terms long enough to permit more significant work to be accomplished and shifting the focus from re-election back to constituents.
Corporate lobbying accounts for over $3 billion in spending a year, and former lawmakers pushing agendas on behalf of big businesses can overwhelm and influence the system. It’s imperative to establish public funding for future candidates if we want to keep election cycles clean and fair, without wealthy and powerful interests influencing outcomes, and with constituents who are educated about their candidates, regardless of party affiliation. As politicians, our primary duty should be finding ways to communicate with our community, to craft legislation and vote in their best interests. We need to get back to working across party lines and voting on good ideas, not partisan influence.
It’s impossible to answer clearly whether or not money buys votes or if our political landscape is overly corrupt. Both are important to consider, but we must evaluate the entirety of the system if we want to improve it. Join me in keeping our lawmakers working for and with us, not for corporations and special interests.