In his general election address at Valley Forge, Donald Trump pledged to “drain the swamp” and outlined a plan to reduce corruption in Washington. Last week, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) introduced constitutional amendments in their respective chambers to enact term limits. Although term limits have played well in focus groups and are favored by a majority of voters, I personally oppose them because I believe that they wouldn’t adequately address the root problems and represent lazy governance.
- Term limits would only apply to future Congresses.
Of course, the current bill does not apply to current Members of Congress. It wouldn’t be fair or legal to make it retroactive but does it make sense to let Members like Rep. John Conyers Jr., who has served 27 terms, to continue to serve while new Members could only serve a maximum of 3 terms? It’s obvious who would hold the power in that scenario.
- When term limits have been enacted at the state level, there has not been a significant change in governance or a lessening of special interest influence.
The outgoing lawmakers will be replaced with people with similar backgrounds and pedigrees. Human nature is not going to change. The new lawmakers will be susceptible to the same special interests and lobbyists.
- It is difficult to find qualified candidates who are willing to run for political office.
The general public underestimates the ease with which political parties find a suitable candidate for public office. Not everyone wants to jump into the cesspool of politics. Not everyone wants opposition researchers digging into their past. Many people would rather not subject their families to the mudslinging that occurs in a campaign. Members like Rep. Jim Jordan and Senator Mike Lee don’t grow on trees. Finding a legislator with the acumen, educational background, rhetorical ability, and interpersonal skills is rare.
- It takes time to become acclimated to the rigors of fundraising, campaigning, public speaking, jockeying for position on the Hill, hiring competent staff, and the legislative process, etc.
Before moving to DC, I underestimated the avalanche of new information that one is tasked with learning when they work in the Beltway. The jargon, acronyms, and new surroundings can be overwhelming at the outset. Then there are the ethics rules, the legislative process, new hires, and security protocols to contend with at every turn. New Members have to take orientation classes, as well as, learn how to balance their personal life in the district with their life in DC. It takes the better part of their first term to figure out their new role and then they need to start fundraising for the next election. It takes several terms in the House (if you are not a breakout star of your freshman class or have family connections) to come into one’s own and start taking on significant committee and leadership roles.
- Freshman members would be steamrolled by senior members not affected by the term limits thereby weakening them even more.
- Voters gain no benefit by placing an artificial cap on a politician’s effectiveness and ability by forcing them to leave politics prematurely as the result of an arbitrarily chosen number of terms.
In spite of the low Congressional approval rating (9%), voters generally give their Congressmen a higher personal rating. If they are doing a good job, why should they be forced into early retirement? Why lose the benefit of that Member’s knowledge of the process and personal connections which may come in handy during legislative battles? Enacting term limits would be akin to forcing teachers to leave schools once they taught there five years or more. In most professions, it takes time to hit one’s stride and start performing at a high level. Congress is no different.
In the 1990’s, several states passed term limit legislation but they were ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court. I have no doubt that should Congress pass the Cruz-DeSantis bill it would face legal challenges as well.
In conclusion, I believe that although they are well intended term limits are a lazy way to govern in a constitutional republic. If a Member is not representing their constituents then voters have the opportunity to vote the bum out during the primary elections. If no one will run against a problematic politician then it is the duty of concerned citizens to recruit a qualified challenger or run for office themselves. It’s as simple as that.