Why We Need Term Limits


Billy Ferguson/Fourth Estate

In our world of polarized politics, one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on is term limits. This is because there is a growing mistrust of “the establishment.” Although the term “establishment” has a very fluid definition, people understand its connotation. It means the elites, or the people who rule over us.

People become members of the establishment over time. They may start out as a force against the establishment, but eventually they realize the best way to fight the establishment is to become the establishment, and at that point, they forget what they were fighting against in the first place. This is why we need term limits for elected officials so they avoid becoming career politicians.

A career politician is a person who only contributes to society by existing as a beneficiary of the status quo, not a person who will change it for the benefit of his or her constituents. They only enter office with the agenda of winning the next election and perpetuating their own lifestyles, rather than the welfare of their communities. With term limits, career politicians are forced to either move up or move on, meaning they will either run for a higher office or leave politics and get back into the private sector.

One argument many anti-term limit advocates make is we already have term limits: they are called failed re-election campaigns. In a perfect world, that may be true. But rarely do long-standing incumbents, even the ones who are incompetent and corrupt, lose elections. According to opensecrets.org, more than 80 percent of incumbents in the House won reelection in each election cycle since 1964.

After a politician spends a multi-year term in office, the media will report on his or her doings. The problem is, people have short attention spans. People usually don’t consider the pros and cons of what legislation was passed or monitor its effects over time. They read and hear over and over “Congressman Smith did X.” Now X may change depending on the story, but the one consistent thing they read is “Congressman Smith,” so that’s what they remember on election day.

Now during reelection, some new upstart may enter a race a few months or a year before the next election, and the media only start to mention the upstart’s existence. Unlike Congressman Smith, people are still learning this new contender’s name. The career politician has — well — made a career out of being known.

Although it may seem trivial, during campaign season, name-recognition almost carries the whole race. Congressman Smith has, just by lengthy existence, earned free campaign ads just by being reported on for years prior to the new candidate’s election announcement.

Furthermore, because Congressman Smith has been in office for a while, people with money and power now come to him. The longer he is in office, the more time he spends with people in Washington, D.C., rather than in his district.

Who lives in Washington? Lobbyists, influencers, other career politicians and, of course, the establishment. This is true for all politicians. The more time spent in Washington, a state capital or city hall means more time spent with these people rather than the people a lawmaker is supposed to represent.

Of course, it’s not detrimental if it’s a few terms, but am I to believe a politician spending multiple decades removed from their original community in a new agenda-driven community will somehow make them more effective at representing the original community?

Another argument by those against term limits is that politicians need time to learn how to get things done. Of course, like all things, there is a learning curve, but if you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do after several terms, it’s time to step aside.

Furthermore, there are other elected officials who have been there for much longer and are experienced at manipulating the rookies into following their agenda, rather than their constituent’s needs. The established politicians do this by forcing the newly elected to show loyalty through voting and toeing the party line for several years. Only after proving they can do it does the leadership start to work with them. Term limits, therefore, would make it harder for career politicians to establish such power.

Although the actual length of the term limit ought to vary for each county and state, I believe it is both reasonable and generous to suggest no more than seven two-year terms for members of the House of Representatives, and no more than three for members of the Senate. I have no fear of good lawmakers being removed via term limits, because if they are actually good statesmen, they will get elected to higher offices. This idea of politicians existing only to be re-elected must end if we want representatives who are more aware of their community’s issues, rather than their own bubble.