Term Limits Essay, Research Paper
The movement to limit terms of elected and appointed government officials has predictably run into a stone wall in Congress, and must seek other means of accomplishing its purpose. The 1994 Republican Contract with America promised term limits, but once in power the enthusiasm for change faded away. Term limits are a wonderful issue to run on as long as they are not enacted into law. The remark of Eighteenth Century dictionary maker Dr. Samuel Johnson seems appropriate now, as it was then. He said, “Politics are now nothing more than a means of rising in the world”. But we who do not rise, and perhaps fall a little with each new political development, have another avenue of attack. Instead of cajoling congressmen to shoot themselves in the foot on our behalf, we can turn to another set of politicians, the state legislators. The United States Constitution recognizes the power of individual states to determine the qualifications of voters, now subject to the restrictions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, but is silent on the qualifications of candidates for federal office beyond the age, citizenship and residency requirements set forth in the constitution. Assuming that what is not prohibited is permitted, twenty-three states enacted term limits for their own senators and representatives, providing that persons who had served two terms as senators or three terms as members of the House of Representatives could not be listed on ballots for any subsequent election. On May 22, 1995, the United States Supreme Court shot down this attempt in a five-to-four decision. The five justices voided the acts of twenty-three state legislatures and 24,513,439 voters on the pretext of “allowing the people to choose whom they please to govern them”. Having been spurned by congress and foiled by judicial activism in a decision graphically illustrating the need for term limits on the court, advocates for term limits must now turn to a third avenue of approach to modern self-government, to a constitutional amendment initiated by the people themselves. The twenty-seven present amendments to the United States Constitution were all proposed to the states by a two-thirds majority in each house of the congress and ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures. But the constitution provides another method of amendment. Article V requires the congress, upon application of two-thirds of the state legislatures, to call a Convention for proposing Amendments. Amendments proposed by such a convention would become part of the constitution upon ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures. Despite overwhelming public sentiment in favor of term limits and citizen government rather than continued reign by professional politicians, activist groups, both liberal and conservative, fear the possibility of a “runaway” convention, that insiders may sway the delegates into adopting measures that would further bias and distort the government structure in favor of special interests and away from the common good. But the requirement that three-fourths of the state legislatures ratify any change is a powerful safeguard. All the legislatures except Nebraska’s have two bodies. Any thirteen of the 99 state legislative bodies could block the ratification of any amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Thus there are great opportunities for gains in good government and little real possibility of loss in pushing for the calling of a constitutional convention by two-thirds or 34 of the state legislatures.
Some of the proposals for term limits are almost meaningless, allowing veteran lawmakers to remain in the House of Representatives for as long as twelve years and in the Senate for as long as eighteen years, which would defeat the purpose of insuring election of persons with meaningful careers outside government in these offices. The full impact of various regulations imposed on business and local government by the congress cannot be appreciated by those insulated from their effects. The only meaningful reform is a limit of two terms in the Senate and three terms in the House of Representatives. Of course the opponents of term limits have their argument. The people may, if they wish, limit the term of any elected official at the ballot box. Any government, that of a kingdom, dictatorship, or a republic, depends for legitimacy on the support, or at least the acquiescence, of the public. In a perfect world they would have a perfect argument. But the world of practical politics is far from perfect. There is an alliance between political power and wealth. Money is the mother’s milk of politics, and in too many cases, the reverse is true. As political entrepreneur Charlie Trie said, government is like the subway – you pay your money to open the gate. Incumbency draws contributions, which buy TV advertising, which spells votes. Term limits will open government to new blood, new ideas, and new respect. After Franklin D. Roosevelt, the people saw fit to limit the terms of the President. Now that incumbents must spend a major portion of their time raising money to stay in office, it is time to call a halt to the money chase and give new ideas a chance in government. References http://www.abic.org/termlimits_home.html http://www.ustermlimits.com/ http://www.termlimits.org/pledge.htm http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/termlimits/termlimits.htm