Failure to Enact term limits is a scandal

By Philip Foglia

A 2018 Gallup poll indicated that a whopping 75% of the American electorate want term limits for Congress and a McLaughlin and Associates poll similarly found 82% of voters favor term limits and 73% more likely to vote for a candidate who supports limits. How is it then, that in our great democracy this overwhelming mandate is not in place? Easily answered; because the elected officials who it would affect, and the lobbyists and special interests who hold sway over them, want to maintain power, ignoring the very reason the founding fathers fought a revolution: to prevent a tenured, privileged class.

The Senate currently has 4 members who have served more than 30 years, 11 more than 20 years and 9 more than 17 years. The House is even worse, 2 members have served more than 40 years, 15 more than 30 years, 24 more than 25 years and 20 more than 20 years. If there ever was a deep state of entrenched power, the Congress is it. The longest serving Senator was Robert Byrd of West Virginia who stayed in office 51 years. John Dingell of Michigan served in the House for 59 years, the streak curtailed only by his death.

Congress was never intended to be a career. Thomas Jefferson inspired the Continental Congress to term limits “…to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office.” Ultimately, the Articles of Confederation limited members to 3 one-year terms in six years. Alexander Hamilton believed “…the security intended to the general liberty consists in the frequent election and in the rotation of the members of Congress.” Although our Constitution does not have term limits, debate during its formulation made clear it was a concern underscoring the belief that fair and

responsible legislation relied on the fact that those making the laws would be returned to their communities to be governed by those laws. Being a career congressman was not even a consideration in 1787. First, there was no salary for those elected to Congress. They were to receive a $6.00 a day per diem. Second, Congressman of the era would be away from their homes for long periods, transportation being what it was in the 18th century. So, rotation in office was practiced uniformly. George Washington declared that “The people must remain vigilant against tyrants masquerading as public servants.” Both he and Thomas Jefferson retired from the presidency after two terms setting a precedent that was followed for nearly two centuries and is now embodied in the 22nd amendment. Andrew Jackson made rotation in office an executive policy of his administration. He maintained , “There are, perhaps, few men who can for any length of time enjoy office and power without being more or less under the influence of feelings unfavorable to the faithful discharge of their public duties…and are apt to acquire a habit of looking with indifference upon the public interest.” Logic would dictate that if curtailing the duration of the executive branch is appropriate, isn’t it also appropriate for the legislative branch? Indeed, since the Founders established the Legislative Branch as the most powerful branch of government, doesn’t it stand to reason that there be limits to the duration of individual members’ tenure and power. The electorate of America certainly thinks so as evidenced by the polls cited.

In the 1990’s virtually every state that had ballot initiatives voted in favor of term limits, 23 states in all. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision decided that states cannot impose qualifications for Congress stricter than the Constitution. But the logic of term limits is unmistakable. Term limited office holders will not have to perpetually raise money for re-election nor be beholden to special interests.

Instead of merely looking to consolidate power to solidify a career, they can focus on policy and the needs of their constituents. They would not have to curry favor with party officials but be free to vote their conscience.

Bi partisanship is currently on life support in America but one thing that the electorate agrees upon is term limits. That McLaughlin poll indicated that 89% of Republicans, 83% of Independents and 76% of Democrats all favor term limits. There is no other issue with such widespread support.

The country needs men and woman with new ideas and fresh approaches to stubborn problems not lifelong politicians with long term relationships with lobbyists and special interests who are more concerned with sustaining a career than listening to their constituents. Make sure that whoever you vote for supports a term limits amendment. If your representative doesn’t respond to the desire of 70 to 80 per cent of American voters, can you trust him or her with other matters so overwhelmingly wanted by the country?