Now I know this position of mine will clearly upset people on both sides of the political aisle, but having seen what implementation of term limits has done in Arizona, and the clear damage a large group of inexperienced legislators can cause to not only State, but Federal government, I stand firm on this assertion.
In my humble opinion, from my observations and read on history, the implementation of term limits has always been a tool by those who can’t quite get the trust of the people to vote for them, by forcing out those who do well in their elected offices. Being a good politician who has the trust of the people is no different from being a good employee. Someone with talent and years of experience, who continues to excel at their job and produce for the employer, or in the political sense, the people they represent.
Now those in favor will rightly point out the power of the incumbency that allows poor politicians to remain in office and how term limits end up being the only way to move them out. However, the way I see it is that this is more the problem of an uninformed and disengaged electorate, not the system. If an elected official isn’t doing their job to the satisfaction of the people, they can (in many cases) be recalled or better yet, voted out in the next election cycle. This has happened more time in history than the other way around, where bad politician remain in office. But again, it’s because of the disengagement of the constituents in the particular district than the system itself. If you require term limits, then good and productive elected officials are also forced out, to the loss of the constituents they represent and who benefit from good representation.
In Arizona, during a time when even though the state was becoming more Republican, the Democratic Party had “safe” seats in the Legislature and we had a good balance of representation. Both sides were experienced in working together for the benefit of the people they represented. The democrats who were in office for the most part were very good and experienced representing the people. However we had an issue where it was discovered that some Democratic representatives were involved taking bribes. The push was made by the Republicans to enact a constitutional amendment creating term limits in the State House and Senate that passed. Problem solved? Well, what was expected and designed to happen, happened.
Both good and bad representatives were term-limited out of their seats. Now these were people with years of experience representing their constituents who were replaced (mostly by Republicans) who had little to no experience in how to legislate, negotiate and govern. They didn’t know the rules; they had no experience in negotiating across party lines. A large group of inexperience, right-wing legislators took over the House and Senate. The only place they could go to in order to “learn the ropes” were party staffers and lobbyists. So by placing a large number of inexperienced representatives in positions of power, the real power switched to unelected staff members and lobbyists who had different agendas from “serving the people.”
Sure enough, gridlock became more partisan, more pro-business legislation came to fruition and as these people ended up being term-limited themselves, just as they were getting to learn things on their own, another group of inexperienced legislators came in who were also dependent on party staffers and lobbyists to show them the way. This is why Arizona is now listed near the bottom in terms of governance in the country. We use to do pretty well before term limits came to play. Now it’s the lobbyists and party staffers fighting for a different agenda, using elected people as figure heads.
Many call for term limits in Federal office. Each election cycle the call goes out because people remain in office that others feel have an unfair advantage. If this was to go into effect, I promise you a continuous recycling of the 112th Congress every four to six years. Now although it wasn’t due to term limits, in 2010 due to the “Tea Party” revolution which itself was due in part to voter disengagement, a large number of extreme hard-line, right-wing, Tea Party representatives came to the House and Senate. Most of these elected officials had little to no experience in governance. So guess who they went to in order to learn the ropes? Like in Arizona, the staffer and lobbyists actually have more control over what’s happening in Congress. Again, the agenda wasn’t for the people, it was for the Republican Party (staffers) and big business (lobbyists) because they legislated for their agenda using the inexperienced people elected to sit in Congress as figureheads.
It’s true that some very bad in unproductive elected officials would be eliminated if we had term limits. Nut jobs like Jim DeMint and John McCain certainly come to mind. But by that same rule, imagine what good, experienced and productive legislators we would have lost before they worked much of their magic for the nation. Ted Kennedy and yes, even Mr. Conservative Barry Goldwater. Many accomplished representatives do leave when their time comes, either by retirement or death, but by remaining and honing their skills as legislators over time, that includes working with the other side for the common good of the people, they control the process, not the staffers or lobbyists, which is what we have in State Houses with term limits and due to voter frustration in recent years, the House and Senate. The issue in my opinion isn’t term limits, its’ voter engagement. If the people are not actively a part of the system, the system will fail them as it did in 2010.
I don’t expect all or even most of you reading this to agree with me, but from my perspective, regardless of the political leaning of any particular candidate in office, I would prefer one experienced and seasoned enough to do their own work and have the tact to work with those on the other side, than be almost completely dependent of professional party staffers and corporate lobbyists, using those people for their own agenda.
I leave you with one thought. After being elected to a fourth term as President, the Republicans (when they took over the Congress after World War II) pushed for the amendment limiting the President to only two terms. They did so because FDR was so good, so effective they feared another one taking his place. Imagine if that amendment was in place before FDR was elected, he would have been term limited just before the outbreak of World War II when we needed the most experience and political savvy man in the Oval office that we could get. If we had another president in office on December 7th, 1941 I shudder to think how we would have done afterwards with a new president just learning the ropes. We don’t force good experienced and productive employees from their jobs because they’ve been there too long (at least good businesses wouldn’t) so why should we with politicians?