Dueling opinions; are congressional term limits a good idea or not?

Nick Sallen, Editor-in-Chief

Preventing corruption

“We came to office not to seek for our own power, but to implement sound principles and to benefit all the people within our states. We then passed the torch to the next generation of leaders,” Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld, co-wrote in an opinion piece to the Washington Post.

Johnson and Weld align their views on congressional term limits with myself and a majority of americans polled — congressional term limits should be implemented on Senate and the House of Representatives.

I believe consecutive term limits will increase performance while preventing corruption or stagnation. A consecutive term limit means a legislator may run for election in another chamber, or leave once their term limit has been met. Should the legislator choose to sit out for two years, the clock will reset, allowing a legislator to run for election in the same position should they not want to serve in another chamber. In my eyes, eight to 12 years is the ideal length of time a legislator should be allowed to serve in one position.

My co-worker believes that congressional term limits thwart the pillar of democracy our government is based on, because if the people vote for their representative to stay but their term limit has been met, the representative has no choice but to step down. In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that term limits on Congress is unconstitutional, verifying my coworkers belief.

In the ‘90s, 15 states enacted state-level congressional term limits of eight to 12 years. The reasoning behind these term limits was to bring new perspectives to Congress and eliminate the career politician.

The states which enacted these laws saw special interest groups and lobbyists working harder to secure subsidies or favorable regulation from their state governments. I believe this is a good thing because money should never influence policy decisions. Lobbyists in these states have had to develop more relationships and make sound arguments for the corporations they represent instead of relying on long-term friendships.

The 22nd Amendment, limiting the president of the United States to two terms, was added to the Constitution. Therefore, term limits on Congress could become constitutional if an amendment were passed. It seems highly unlikely that kind of legislation will pass due to Congress and the House of Representatives both needing a 2/3 vote pass an amendment which would limit their ability to have an extended stay in their respective chamber.

The truth is that legislators who have stayed in their position uninterrupted know how to win. They may be a well-liked representative for their constituents. A legislator who votes for the people they represent will receive votes in the next election. For these kinds of legislators, I wish their weren’t term limits.

Legislators could also use their power to enact “pork barrel” policy to bring in lots of campaign dollars in an effort to out spend and, in turn, be rewarded by winning the election due to their pre-paid popularity.

A legislator may lose sight of their constituents desires and act solely out of self-interest. If this were to happen, term limits would eventually force them out of their position, and they would have to prove their worth as a legislator once more.

Currently, there are 11 members in the Congress who have served in the same position for over 36 years. The oldest active uninterrupted representative being John Conyers, who has served Michigan’s 13th congressional district for over 51 years.

Congressional term limits are needed at all levels of government because of the large electoral advantage incumbents have, the constant threat of special interest groups buying off politicians, historically low rates of turnover and the unique power that legislators hold. Our founding fathers thought term limits were a good idea when they drafted the Constitution because they valued good leadership over a long tenure.

Nick Sallen is the editor-in-chief of   The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]