Let's talk term limits

I’m sure there have been previous discussions here on the dope, but this is in the news thanks to Ted Cruz.



The press release goes on to claim that 74% of Americans support term limits. My Facebook feed would seem to agree with that number.

I must be in the minority, then. We have legislative term limits here in Ohio and I don’t know what anyone can point to as a benefit. The result, from my perspective, is that politicians bounce around between various government jobs, from the house to the senate to some executive function, etc. Instead of having different governmental bodies with distinct functions, we get this kind of mush of people moving around. Doesn’t seem to do squat to cronyism and deceit. In fact, if you want to keep your job, you’d better build up your cadre of cronies so they can help you when your term is up.

This would be bad for our country, and would only make politics more extreme and disfunctional.

In Michigan, people get into the legislature, do as much nutty shit as possible until they can’t run anymore and get tons of money from the special interest groups they’ve helped out. They know they never have to answer for their votes because by the time the shit hits the fan, they’re gone.

Plus, since they’re just passing through, they never need to build alliances across the aisle to get things done.

Finally, there are never any real experienced people running the government, it’s all a bunch of rookies who get pushed out when they finally get the hang of things. You know what inexperienced legislators do when they don’t know how to draft legislation or don’t ever feel the need to learn how to draft legislation? They turn to lobbyists to write it for them. Not good.

There’s a lot to be said for the accountability and friendships and experience that come from long-term service. The right-wing has turned “career politician” into a bad thing. Why? Because it’s the right that benefits from scorched-earth governance from short-term legislators-- the shittier they can make government look, the more they can privatize.

Personally, I see term limits as a necessary condition for setting up a better political environment as opposed to them having any direct benefits themselves. Term limits keep people from voting in the incumbent simply out of habit, for one, which I think is a plus. A long-term incumbent may also discourage people from voting, but that’s just my guess.

As far as the problems you suggested that aren’t being solved by term limits, I think the problems are a symptom of other political ills that are unrelated to term limits or lack thereof. I of course can’t speak for the politics in your area, but they are similar to the politics in my area, and I see no indication that term limits or lack thereof have much to do with them beyond the same guy getting voted in over and over with low voter turnout.

But term limits also prevent people from voting for the incumbent on merit. It cuts both ways, and I don’t see any evidence that it’s a net positive.

In most races the incumbent party is destined to replace an incumbent forced out by term limits anyway; if they really want to do that, they can impose their own term limits, or require a primary every election with weighted votes that make it harder (but not impossible) for incumbents to stay in power. But that’s up to each party’s rules, no constitutional amendment required.

I’m a bit of a Jeffersonian in that I think avoiding stagnation in a specific position overrides the merit that might come from someone staying in the position indefinitely. I see it as one of the many factors that needs to be in place to force a community to keep producing quality candidates and voting them into office. So if there isn’t evidence that having term limits or removing them is a net positive, then I’d default to having term limits.

The problem of safe districts seems to me independent of a discussion on term limits. However, ideally, term limits would perhaps force the safe, incumbent party to keep producing candidates for the position, increasing the likelihood that they will produce someone unpalatable enough to destroy their safety. But that is purely idealistic and would be a rather indirect effect of term limits.

Nope. Occasionally we do get good politicians–why make them quit? When everyone is a newbie, the lobbyists gain more power. (Of course, that makes lobbying a more attractive job for legislators who’ve served their terms.)

We have “term limits”–that are called elections. The problem is getting the voters to pay attention–especially to those “dull” ballots between Presidential elections.

Also, as a Texan, I can say with certainty that anything Ted Cruz proposes is a bad idea. His own party has already discussed primarying him rather than let him have another term as Senator…

term limits work quite well for the elected position of the President.

I’d rather have an experienced politician holding elected office than an inexperienced one, all else being equal.

‘Career politicians’ are much more trustworthy (and effective) than people who have their lives and livelihoods invested elsewhere. The career politician might be wooed by lobbyists, the businessman serving a temporary stint in politics is his own lobbyist!

Term limits are popular among those who don’t think being an elected official is a “job”, and who want their politicians to have only a brief stint of “vacation” before “getting back to work”.

There’s probably a correlation here with people who elect politicians who brag about how they’re not doing their jobs.

I’m a bit more idealistic about the whole thing than that. Taking George Washington as the proto-typical example, he was begrudgingly elected to two terms and then retired to his farm.

Of course that was a different time where political life and “everyday life” were not as intertwined as they are now, there was nowhere near the level of campaigning or lobbying there is now, etc. I’m open to the fact that I might be too idealistic here (though I don’t think I am), but I think forcing officials into the Cincinnatus archetype on this point would be a good idea. Electing people who naturally embody that archetype would be even better, but that would rely on voters actually voting for such people in majority.

Replace people just as they’re gaining the expertise they need to do the job right. What could go wrong?

I agree with steronz. Ohio’s term limits have been terrible for the state. The only people who know what is going on in the statehouse are the lobbyists. All the elected legislators are too busy running or looking for their next job to develope any expertise.

Oh, so only the independently wealthy ought to go into politics? Washington didn’t have a farm–he had a plantation, which was actually several “farms.” And a distillery. And he fished the Potomac. Or his slaves did. (I’m a big fan of Washington. He had doubts about slavery & might have done more if he’d had more than a couple of years left after completing his duty. And he did free them in his will. Unlike every other slaveholding president–including several who had many years of worthless indebtedness left after leaving office. And “worried” about slavery but helped build the basis for scientific racism. Sorry, I’ve got several bones to pick with TJ. )

“Archetypes” are great–I read Jung for fun. But we’re talking about the real world here. The problem is waking up the American voter. Some have no idea what voting means. Others may be brighter but keep waiting for an “archetype.”

Term limits would make more sense if committee positions weren’t assigned based on seniority. You may not like your current Senator, but if he’s been there for five terms, he has a better shot of being chairman of, say, the Armed Services Committee and thus will have a greater say in whether or not an army base in your state stays open or not. Do you want to trade him for a freshman who will have zero seniority and thus limited choices of committee membership and no chance at chairing any of them?

We also had a bunch of soldiers who picked up arms, joined the Continental Army for a bit, and then left the service. That doesn’t mean that soldiers today don’t need to have more training and expertise than in Revolutionary times.

But let’s also get real here. The Founders as a whole weren’t just political dilettantes who did a couple years worth of service to their country and then returned to private life. Quite a few had records like Washington, who served for 15 years in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Others rotated through a variety of positions, from members of Congress to ministers to cabinet officials, etc., but would today surely be considered professional politicians.

Of course there is a nuance between term limits for a particular office and one’s perception of being a professional politician. But the idea that the Founders established an American tradition of non-professional politicians is incorrect. An awful lot of them were in public life for the better part of their careers.

We actually agree a lot here. Thomas Jefferson definitely had plenty of faults, but I think his vision is something we really need right now. And waiting for a Cincinnatus/Washington like figure is useless; the biggest issue is, as you said, waking up the voters. Perhaps in waking up they will realize the benefit of electing such a figure.

You bring up an interesting point that perhaps only the independently wealthy can do as Washington did in this day and age. Beyond the obvious reason that running an election these days tends to be stupidly expensive, which would be true with or without term limits, why do you think this?

I agree with steronz and the OP. This would be a bad constitutional amendment. It would be the first since Prohibition to take a right away from the people. Term limits reduce our range of choices; it’s a law saying, “You may not vote for this (potential) candidate.”

Also, it gives more power to staffers and office managers, who sometimes stay on after a change in representatives. The new guy will be much more dependent on his experienced staff.

I sometimes refer to term limits as, “a bad idea whose time has come”.

As far as I’m concerned the only term limits we need are regularly scheduled elections. Then the voters can decide if an elected official has been in office too long.

Read my post (#2). What has happened in Michigan with term limits is a capital full of inexperienced lawmakers who know they don’t need to govern with accountability or nuance. So that leaves you with two possibilities: Absolute gridlock (in a divided government) or slash-and-burn governing (in a single-party rule, which is what we have now).

Most of these people are dependent upon the lobbyists to write their legislation; they see no value in forging alliances or horse trading; and every single one of them is looking ahead to how much they can make once they’re out of office in 2, 4 or 6 years, so they follow the will of the person willing to pay them the most for their pet projects. They end up doing the will of the wealthiest lobbyist(s) because they need to squeeze as much dirty, dirty action into a finite space as possible. All of these things lead to extremists in government.

But they absolute worst part is that they can pass ridiculous bullshit and know that they will never have to answer to voters if it all goes to hell. They’ll be long gone when the results of defunding schools hits. They’ll be long gone when the road-repair bill they didn’t fully fund comes due. Even if their party suffers the electoral consequences down the line, what the hell do the individual legislators care? They got theirs (at the expense of the state).

The reality of term limits is that it makes government more dysfunctional, and term limits actually make the elected officials *less *accountable to the people.