Term Limits: A good or a bad idea?

Term Limits is a frequent topic of discussion today among Americans seeing it as a way to stop corruption in Washington.  But would term limits solve the problem?  Or could they create a worse mess than we already have?

Perhaps we should look no further than California for our answer — does anyone really think term limits in Sacramento has helped our state?

Term limits certainly sound like the easy way to stop corruption.  And without question the Founders envisioned a Citizen Congress, with statesmen serving a short time and then returning home to their former employment.

But there are obvious drawbacks to Term Limits we must consider, such as:

(1)  it would force constitutionalists from office, based only on the number of terms they had served, not their unfaithfulness to the Constitution;

(2)  it would convert all congressmen serving their last term under term limits into “lame duck” officeholders; and

(3)  it would divert attention away from what is really needed — an informed electorate.

Is that what we want?

Back in the 1990s, term limits was being used to bring about an even more serious threat, a Constitutional Convention, through which the Constitution itself could be destroyed.  How?  Because there is no way to limit what a Constitutional Convention can do.

We all know what happened in 1787.  The Articles of Incorporation were totally changed in a Constitutional Convention.  Admittedly, they were changed in a good way, but forged under the leadership of statesmen like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.  Do we have people of similar character today?

There’s no telling what current politicians would do to our Constitution under a Constitutional Convention.  It could turn out to be 2000 pages long, to “include everything” for “our own good,” they would tell us.  I shudder at the thought!

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One Response to Term Limits: A good or a bad idea?

  1. Bad idea. Term limits might sound attractive at first, especially with the “Citizen Congress” vs. “Career Politician” appeal.

    By removing the old guard, term limits have achieved one stated goal: making the Capitol look more like the people it serves. Minorities are significantly better represented now than before. However, women are the glaring exception and make up less than 30% of the state legislature.

    Other than this however, term-limits have been a disaster for California.

    First, it’s bad for accountability. Lawmakers are termed-out of office before the effect of their policies are felt, leaving voters confused about who to blame/thank.

    Second, it’s bad for policy. Power isn’t destroyed by term-limits, its simply relocated from the people’s representatives to the lobbyists and interest groups upon whom legislators become dependent upon for policy expertise. Special (and not public) interest-driven politics is the result. California’s experience has demonstrated that this feature of term-limits is particularly destructive.

    Finally, the size and complexity of government–at all levels of society–has greatly increased since the initial days of the Republic. This makes the case for the type of policy expertise that comes only with time. Whether or not government should be so big is beside the point. If California demonstrates anything, it’s that limiting the terms of legislators does nothing to slow the growth of government. To the contrary, government has grown while the quality of services have declined in California since term limits were enacted.

    Term limits seem to be popular amongst Tea-Party Conservatives. I hope more individuals in the movement take the time to study both California’s experience, and the apparently forgotten warnings against “unintended consequences”.

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