Problem of Term Limits

A lot of conservatives are on board with the idea of term limits.  While in principle it seems like a good idea, it’s one of those things I think is a bit of a double edged sword.  This is one of the reasons why.

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen never has to face the voters again, so he can freely veto Restaurant Carry, and now Park Carry, without having to fear.  Having gotten what he wanted, his NRA endorsement having helped him get re-elected, he no longer has any need for them, so under the bus they go.  For most of our state governors, they will spend at least half their career as governors being completely unaccountable to voters.

We’ve had to endure that in Pennsylvania, where Ed Rendell was quite happy to run from his gun control record when he ran for Governor the first time, and kept it largely off his agenda during his first term.   It was not until he no longer had to face Pennsylvania voters that he decided to make an issue he’d put political capital behind.

I think too many conservatives see term limits a a panacea, rather than seeing it has significant trade offs.  I am not passionate about imposing them on Congress, and generally think it’s a fight conservatives and libertarians shouldn’t waste their time with.

33 thoughts on “Problem of Term Limits”

  1. Not me. I see the tradeoffs the same way I see it with increased gun ownership. Sure, some nutjob will eventually screw up, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

    By constantly rotating out people, fresh perspectives are not only brought in, but the chances of entrenchment goes down considerably. It’d be harder for powerful interest groups to gain control over politicians if they know they’re not going to be there forever.

    If there was a distinct lack of talent available, I’d say term limits would be a bad idea. However, look at what we have now. It’s not like those in power are a rare breed, who’s instincts for governance are not only keen and honed, but hard to find replacements for.

    Being a politician should not be a career. It shouldn’t be a comfortable position where your only competition is one or two other people. By limiting the terms (and I think there should be a global term limit so you can’t jump from state senator to governor to Congressman to president), you take away many incentives for corruption and prevent much of the morass that we have today. Plus, I think it would increase competition for the jobs.

  2. The global term limit is interesting. If you could only ever hold a single public office in your life? You’d have to go straight to President. My fear in that kind of scenario is you’d have clueless famous people wanting to be President, since you’d already need to have some form of established celebrity. Maybe you’d see more CEO’s do stints is President. I’m not sure that would be a bad thing.

  3. It’d be harder for powerful interest groups to gain control over politicians if they know they’re not going to be there forever.

    The only thing I’d point out there is that gun owners are a powerful interest group. I can see the goals term limits advocates are trying to achieve, and I agree with many of them, but I’m not sure that’s, at the end of the day, it’s going to result in any better outcome. I would probably support term limits on the House that would run into a decade, and maybe a three term limits on Senators. But you’d still have senators unaccountable for 1/3rd of their time in office. House term limits would be less problematic, when it comes to the lame duck problem.

  4. So Bredesen will veto and the legislature will override. Big deal. Now a gun-controller will soon be out of work. If he wants to stay in politics, he will have to run for a different office without the advantages of an incumbent and gun-groups working actively against him.

    Let’s make a list of people who would be out of government with expanded term limits.

    Almost every member of Congress most of us can name – Barney Frank, Ted Kennedy, Pelosi, Reid, Dodd, Lautenberg, Collins, etc… All would have been sent back home to live with the laws they passed.

  5. Generally, I’ve always been against term limits. I always felt we HAD term limits, and they were called “Election Years.”

    However, I’m starting to change that position somewhat. Yes, limits would get rid of Byrd, Kennedy, Pelosi, etc, but we would lose many good ones on our side too. There are days, however, when I think I’d be willing to make that trade, especially the days around the Specter garbage.

  6. In California our terms limits have simply changed the circus in Sacramento into more of a political merry-go-round. Members of the Legislators hit by term-limits retain Party-clout, and Senators run (and because of the Machine and Gerrymander, win) seats in the Assembly, and Assembly men likewise swap places with Senators.
    Fortunately for California Republicans Obama has harvested a crop of CA tax-and-spend nitwits to serve in his Administration, one as the Labor Secratary (muscle) and the other in the State Department (hey, how ’bout those Cuban spies?!). Also as an aside, Karl Kurtz at The Thicket says that States with term limits have higher proportions of former state legislators serving in Congress than states without term limits.
    The good news for CA Republicans is those vacant seats prevent Democrats at the State level from a governing with a 2/3rds supermajority in the Legislature, passing even more insane and restrictive laws like ammunition serializing and microstamping.
    However the vacant seats will not be contested across party lines and will be re-filled by cookie-curter, same-party shoe-in’s because the Gerrymander currently in effect ensures that the spending whores are convened behind an iron-curtain – just a the State Politburo likes.
    The Democrat Machine’s party control and money received from the SEIU, Public Employee Union, and Teachers means that State office-holders don’t have to listen to the little people anyhow, accountability has never been at-issue and is the reason the CA budget is in such a mess. We have the highest taxes of any state and still spend insanely and on wish-book trivialities like “High Speed Rail.”

    Send Pelosi home…to Brooklyn – she’s not a Californian, she’s a carpetbagger. But send her back here and she’ll be the biggest turd in the punchbowl that is the Central Committee of the Democrat Party…

  7. I am 100% behind Robb – we need to find a way to return these to positions of temporary public service, and if term limits do that, then great. If anything, it will force the local parties to stop rubber-stamping the incumbents in the primaries, which is HUGE.

  8. “You’d lose a lot of solid conservatives too.” That’s okay for two reasons.

    1. We’d lose far more liberals off the bat.
    2. How many times have we elected a “solid conservative” who hung around DC too long and turned into a career hack? Term limits filter out this phenomenon.

    Elections are poor term limiters – incumbents have far too many advantages. And, knowing they only have two terms at most, politicians might actually base their decisions on morals and not campaign contributions.

  9. That brings up another interesting dynamic, DirtCrashr. Term limited politicians give the party a lot more power than it would have otherwise, because politicians are considerably more dependent on the party apparatus to win elections. Career politicians tend to have their own machines, outside of the party. Is one way better than the other? It’s not clear to me that’s the case.

  10. I’m of an opinion similar to Robert Heinlein’s in “Starship Trooper”, namely that no one can vote or hold elected office unless that person has served a term in the military forces, with honorable discharge. That would eliminate 99% of Dems / socialists currently in office.
    I don’t know how it would ever be implimented, unless The Second American Revolution starts soon. (Sigh. . . )

  11. Elections are poor term limiters – incumbents have far too many advantages. And, knowing they only have two terms at most, politicians might actually base their decisions on morals and not campaign contributions.

    I fear decisions based on the morals of a person who has the skills necessary to attain public office. To some degree I actually trust interest based politics more, because outcomes are more predictable.

    I agree that elections are poor term limiters, however, and that incumbents have significant advantages. Some of those advantages are caused by other bad laws designed to do on behalf of voters what the voters won’t do for themselves, like campaign finance laws.

    I’m always going to be skeptical of measures design to institutionalize what voters really ought to be doing. I’m sympathetic to institutional mechanisms to control for human nature (which is typically not good when it comes to political power), in fact, our entire government is based on that. But I don’t think you can get around the fact that voters, to a large degree, are rationally ignorant of the choices they are making.

  12. I’m of an opinion similar to Robert Heinlein’s in “Starship Trooper”, namely that no one can vote or hold elected office unless that person has served a term in the military forces, with honorable discharge.

    I am actually no in favor of universal suffrage as a concept. The problem is, limiting the institution has a horrible, racist history in this country, and I can’t think if any way limits could be accomplished without the limits being used as a political tool. But I would, in theory, favor a constitutional amendment requiring every potential voter to name the sitting President, name the three branches of government, or other such simple, but very objective questions, that would eliminate probably more voting Americans than we would care to admit.

    The problem is, such a proposal is a political non-starter. It’s so impossible as to almost not be worth thinking of. The best I can come up with is we have to, culturally, move away from this notion that voting is a civic duty. I don’t think it is. It’s something no one should do if they aren’t willing to put in the time to develop at least a basic understanding.

  13. This is the first I heard the arguement that a lame duck politician has greater power than a non lame duck politician by virtue of being term limited.

    In Bresden case I disagree, at least he term limited and after his term is limited in damage and he has not been so bad except his treasonous behavior on guns. Personally I think he is angling for an Obama admin position.

  14. This is why I kind of like how the “term limits” are in Virginia for our Governors. They can serve as many terms as they can be elected. However, those terms cannot be consecutive. I’d love to see something like spread out into Congress as well.

  15. I’ve often pondered whether we’d have better results treating serving in Congress like we do jury duty. I suspect we would not have better results, but I’m not convinced the results would be measurably worse :)

  16. Sebastian,

    The notion that a term in Congress would be like jury duty has been floated in some fiction circles. I’d be in favor of that. Every 2 years, the SSNs for all of those who have filed and paid their taxes and not convicted of a felony or crime of violence (same standard as gun ownership) go into a hopper and 535 names come out.

    You’re right, they can’t possibly do any worse. Yes, they could be wooed by lobbyist interests but there would be no long term gain for them to do so. The very fact they cannot be re-elected could allow them to tell many folks to piss off.

    The whole notion of partisan and party politics goes out the window with such a system. But it truly would be Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

    We’ll have to keep that one as a viable option should a 2nd Revolution come to pass and succeed.

  17. You’d need some mechanism to ensure they had at least a smattering of a clue, so there’d have to be objective qualifications to hold the office. But I’m not convinced if you could come up with the right qualifiers, the results would be that much worse. But it’s possible they would be. Go talk to your state rep about the budget process sometime. There’s a lot of information that legislators do have that ordinary people don’t. But I question whether you could maintain such monstrous leviathan if no one really knew what the hell was going on :)

  18. “I would rather live in a society governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone directory than in one governed by the 2,000 members of the Harvard faculty.”

    William F. Buckley

  19. See, Sebastian, you’re missing the point as to why I want the people in elected positions that make laws to be less able to do the job – I want the lack of confidence in them that the position already deserves.

    They are not, for the most part doctors, engineers, computer programmers, mechanics, oil surveyors, or social workers, yet each and every one of them pretend they know how to legislate those activities better than those on the ground doing the actual work. The longer these people stay in office, the more detached from reality they become, the less dependable their votes become.

    Limiting the exposure to power is a start to fix that.

    The other thing needs to be something similar to several proposals – laws must be made with a super majority but can be repealed with a simple third. I prefer politicians not expending any effort on laws they know would just go up in smoke the next session or, have them expend that energy anyway and have it overturned nonetheless.It’s still a positive.

    The reason for this is because of the fickle nature of a termed politician, there needs to be a balance to ‘last minute insanity’ – See Bresdesen, Phillip N. Decent laws would stand a better chance at staying put while special interest driven ones could be removed easily.

    I know I’m thinking pie in the sky and might as well build a nice stall for my unicorn, but there’s not really that much of a need for 90% of the government we have. We’ve pretty much nailed down exactly what we need to keep the country running, these bastards aren’t doing anything except justifying their jobs by catering to special interests, classifying everything as being criminal, and assuring the majority that taking the money from the minority is in their best interest.

    While term limits introduce their own problems, I believe that for the most part the issues it would solve would greatly overshadow the bad.

  20. “laws must be made with a super majority but can be repealed with a simple third.”


    I really, really like that idea.

  21. The best I can come up with is we have to, culturally, move away from this notion that voting is a civic duty. I don’t think it is. It’s something no one should do if they aren’t willing to put in the time to develop at least a basic understanding.

    *blinks* This implies that being well informed about that candidates isn’t part of a person’s civic duty.

  22. Term limits on the legislature put the power of the position in the hands of the staffers and the bureaucrats. We already see this for freshmen congresscritters if they inherit a staff.

    If you MUST term limit, only limit the Representatives. The Senate is SUPPOSED to be the long-term deliberate body. And because of gerrymandering, right now it’s easier to hold a seat in the House than it is in the Senate in many states; because the Senators must please their entire consituency.

    Get rid of gerrymandering (a couple of states have non-partisan redistricting committes), overturn Wickard v. Filburn and the cases that draw on it (that might take a constitutional amendment). But don’t expect Massachusetts to elect a conservative just because Ted Kennedy is term-limited out. He’ll just become an eminence grise and leave his staff to his replacement.

    Plus, we’ll never be able to term-limit out the non-appointed bureacrats anyway. In that case I’d rather have a strong legislative branch, because for damn sure the executive will have more power if the House is full of freshmen reps.

  23. What I think we would see is the elected officials AIDS would become even more powerful. I’ve done my share of lobbying, and one thing I have noticed, even when the elected official is gone, most of the AIDS stay. They have the elected officials ears, and on many things have serious influence. It scared me when I once thought the country was being run by 26 year olds who just got their masters degree!! Sense, but not so common…

  24. The biggest problem with elected officials is that they DO go and make laws. As Dannytheman notes, their aids and secretaries and helpers stay – that’s the Government Employees Union – bread and butter jobs that increase the size of Government. Guess how they vote.

    We’d be better off if they could not measure their productivity by how El Mucho Grande, but instead like Golf by how little. If the job was to UN-make laws, cut waste, and reduce the number of offices and bureaucratic clutter we’d be better off – but people respond to bigger slices of pie and have become fat…

    I would propose measuring THOSE things and making them an incentive system: they would get a pay raise if they reduced more, and faster, and a bigger pay-raise if they just quit and went home early in their term leaving their seat vacant and doing less harm by doing nothing.

    In CA a Career Democrat who tried to build their own network or machine outside the Central Committee would be found face down in an irrigation ditch somewhere, or on the Newspaper front page caught with his (usual, Party-provided hooker. (see: John Edwards). It’s fine to have a personal network of bagmen, hookers and cronies – but don’t EVER go against the Political Mafia. see: Chicago.)
    The Term-Limited Pol can still swim inside the Party apparatus fishbowl, and the party will feed him snacks in the form of other Pols who made “mistakes” or otherwise don’t toe the Party Line – they have to make examples now and then to impress perpetual loyalty upon their Gangster-members, and being an executioner get’s you up the Party Ladder (see: Saddam Hussein.)…

  25. Kathy:

    I’m mostly speaking about get out the vote drives, which promote the idea that registering as many people to vote as possible is good for the country, and spurning people to do their civic duty. Someone engaged will register to vote on their own. I almost think it should be a little hard, not all that different than getting an LTC in Pennsylvania. The idea of making voting registration as easy as pie so more people exercise their civic duty for the health of Democracy…. that’s what I’m against.

  26. Right on, Sebastion! My thought, if I do not pay taxes or serve in the miltary, I have no right to vote, because I am not paying the bills!

  27. I’ve long believed that a mechanism which would allow a voter override of term limitis might be a workable solution.

    If the incumbent can win with more than 60% of the vote, then the limit is waived. This way, if a district has an officeholder whom they overwhelmingly support, they can express their political will accordingly.

    With less than 60% though, (even 59.99%), it’s “yer outta here!”, and off to a secondary election.

    I would also put a sunset provision on a term limits law. Say, twenty years from now. We can look at the results then, and if it’s good, keep it. If it turned out that we were wrong, it can die it’s own death. Given the nature of unforseen circumstances, I think it’d be wise to measure the real-world effects of term limits, evaluating the real results against the intended outcome.

    And if you want to get truly radical, I’d endorse the old Swiss law. Show up to vote armed as proof of your citizenship, or you just don’t get to vote.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  28. Jim, I’m of the mind that ALL laws not in the constitution should sunset. Every. Last. One. Of. Them.

    Lawmakers would spend a lot of effort voting back in laws that made sense and very little time worrying about those that aren’t working or whatnot.

    As you can tell, I’m interested in removing laws, be it through time or 1/3rd votes, or what have you. The problem is that we have too many laws making it impossible to be decent, productive citizens. We have representatives who’s entire job exists to make more laws because that’s how they show they’re worth hiring and in that view, it’s a negative feedback loop.

    We need people who can make the system run lean, and the only way to do that is to limit their exposure to said system and reward those who do so rather than reward those with the biggest advertising budgets.

  29. I’ve come to the conclusion term limits are like seat belt laws for government

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