The concept of term limits predates the U.S. Constitution itself. Many of the founders favored term limits based on the belief that there would be less abuse of power if there was a rotation in office. This idea lost support by the time that the Constitution was signed because many were concerned that term limits would weaken the stability of the republic. Instead of imposing term limits, they thought that frequent elections and other institutional checks and balances would prevent tyrannical government power (Heritage, 2009).
Since then, term limits popularity has waxed and waned. The popularity of term limits was high from 1890-1910, in the 1990’s, and is currently favored by many people. Each time, the wave of sentiment favoring term limits was fueled by the increasing professionalism of politics and an unlimited growth in government spending…sound familiar?
Term limits laws were successfully passed by state legislatures in the 1990’s at the state level. But those laws were overturned by the Supreme Court in 1995 in U.S. Term Limits vs. Thornton because they were ruled to be contrary to the Constitution. Since then, the strategy has been to push for a constitutional amendment, but has been unsuccessful due to opposition by both parties.
My view of term limits has also waxed and waned, and I’m still open to thoughtful debate. So, let me state my thoughts and you can let me know what you think, and why.
When the vote on term limits for our county commissioners was put before us in the county, I was opposed to the idea (and still am) for these reasons.
First, at the local level, our politicians are readily accessible to us. It is easy for an opposing group, dissatisfied with the incumbent, to work with little expense, to get another candidate to unseat them. There is usually little, or no money that comes to a candidate from outside interests that might influence an election.
Second, there is no ability to keep an excellent person beyond the term, even with the approval of the voters. This
results in taking away the right to vote for the candidate of your choice. Why would we limit our choice, and, is it really ethical to limit someone else’s right to vote for their candidate? In a small community, there is a limited pool of leadership, so why shouldn’t we keep a good leader?
Third, there is no incentive for a second term elected official to respect the will of the people because there is no
restraint of the voter to vote them out in the next election. With a two term limit, the elected official could make decisions contrary to the wishes of the people for half of their time in office.
Finally, since other counties don’t have term limits, and the influence and authority at the state level is by experience and relationships, this county is at a disadvantage to other counties without term limits. This will also result in a potential loss of funding.
However, when it comes to statewide or national elections, I tend to favor term limits. Ok, you may think me to be duplicitous, but here are my reasons.
At this level, it is very difficult to have a relationship and direct access to an elected official. Can you really catch our governor at the local grocery, high school ball game, or parade to visit about an issue?
Money also tends to be an issue, and in recent years, almost all of our statewide or national officials receive more outside money than they do from within their district. This has led to the development of the two main fears identified many years ago. The development of an entrenched, professional politician and excessive growth in government spending.
While term limits has clear shortcomings, something must be done to stop the rise in modern bureaucracy and expansion of the administrative state.
Editor’s note: The Union County Progressives could not find a writer to discuss the term limits topic this week.