Friday, January 05, 2007

federal congressional term limits

The following is copied from Wikipedia's article on federal congressional term limits accompanied by my counter arguments:

In favor of limits

"It prevents incumbents from using the benefits of office to remain in power indefinitely."
In some situations, merely being in office provides an elected official with a distinct advantage in further elections. Supporters of term limits argue that this advantage is undemocratic, and means that incumbents no longer fear losing their offices and cease to be concerned with the needs of their constituents. Term limits ensure that all officials are eventually removed from power.

"It makes room for fresh candidates, and encourages participation."
Imposing term limits on an office ensures that there will always be vacancies for new candidates to pursue. This may encourage citizens who would normally not consider running for office to do so, as they will not be challenging an established, entrenched opponent. Many proponents claim that term limits will increase diversity in a legislature, bringing the law-making body's demographics more in line with those of the general population.

"It stops politicians from making choices solely to prolong their career."
If a politician can serve as many terms as they wish, they may be tempted to follow policies which will ensure their long-term political survival, rather than policies which further the interests of voters. Supporters of term limits sometimes argue that if politicians know from the beginning of their service that their time in office is limited, they will act differently (and less self-servingly) than “career” legislators.

"It reduces the advantage which can be gained by a representative's seniority."
In some legislatures, power and influence tend to increase as a legislator gains seniority — a politician who has served many terms will carry more responsibility than one who has just been elected, even if both are representing the same number of voters. If one district continually re-elects the same politician, while another district frequently changes its politician, the first district will have greater sway in the legislature than the second, because its representative has had time to accrue seniority. Term limits ensure that each district has representatives of similar seniority.

Against limits

"It is undemocratic."
The most common argument against the use of term limits is that it takes away the right of voters to be represented by the politician of their choice. It is argued that if the public wish to re-elect their representative, it is undemocratic to prevent them from doing so. Allow the electorate to do its job, argue opponents, and non-responsive legislators can still be held accountable.

"It results in a lack of experienced politicians."
Term limit opponents argue that, with experience, comes greater skill. The very use of the term “freshman representative” is indicative of the fact that the first-term legislator is less likely to be able to “get things done” in the legislature. It is further argued that inexperienced politicians will be more reliant on advice and guidance from un-elected officials and lobbyists. Permanent committee staffers, who ostensibly work for the representatives, would become more knowledgeable and powerful than the members themselves. Moreover, lobbyists in the employ of special interests might tend to grow more powerful, as they can offer to “help” inexperienced members gain a foothold. Because both staffers and lobbyists are unelected, opponents argue, term limits are undemocratic because it places more power in the hands of the unelected.

"It means that politicians approaching their term limit no longer have to worry about what voters think."
Another argument against term limits is that it is the very fact that politicians need to go back to the voters for approval and reelection that keeps them responsive. With term limits, a lame duck legislator no longer has any motivation to continue heeding the concerns of his constituents. In such a circumstance, a legislator could use their last term to set themselves up for a job in the private sector after the end of their legislative career.

"It simply results in frequent trading of office between the same people, not an influx of new people."
In contrast to the claims that term limits allow new faces to enter politics, opponents claim that there are enough political offices for elected officials to simply "play musical chairs". In response to claims that term limits promote diversity, on August 15, 2006 the United States' National Conference of State Legislatures issued a report at its annual meeting stating that "term limits have not led to significant increases in female or minority representation in state legislatures, according to a survey of the 15 states with term limits."

My Counter Arguments for Term Limits

It is undemocratic?
There are nearly 300 million Americans, and you think you can’t find another person to do a great job in a congressional seat? That’s insulting.

It results in a lack of experienced politicians?
What experience do we want politicians to have? Experienced in how to manage through the bureaucracy, and deal with special interest groups? What we really don’t need are experienced, career politicians. When the career politicians are gone, the freshman politicians will have a much easier time getting things done, despite their naïvety of the DC status quo. We need people with normal American life experience. Career politicians are the ones lacking this valuable experience.

It means that politicians approaching their term limit no longer have to worry about what voters think?
Political scientist Mark Petracca observes, "Electoral competition is no longer possible in a system where the benefits and power of incumbency virtually guarantee a lifelong career as a legislator." (The Politics and Law of Term Limits, p. 68). Politicians that are career politicians are guaranteed long careers because of the power of incumbency, according to Petracca. So we can have career politicians that never care much or term-limited citizen-representatives potentially shirking their responsibilities--the latter sounds better to me, too.

It simply results in frequent trading of office between the same people, not an influx of new people?
So a study is cited saying that more females and minorities have not filled state representative positions as a result of their state-level term limitations. Ok, well, gender and ethnic diversity is another fruit compared to "new people"--we're talking about rotation of authority among any and all new citizens. You can’t reach the valid conclusion that low participation by women and minorities proves that other new citizens aren't participating in civil service with that information. (Also note that the organization that wrote the report is basically a special interest group for politicians. So why would it stab its comrades' career hopes in the back?)

We don’t need civil servants with specialized political experience. We need men and women that are experienced with life outside the beltway of DC, that have worked in our education system, that have served in the armed forces, that have nourished the entrepreneurial spirit of our great nation. These will lead the way to future, unfathomable global and domestic successes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read the pros and cons of this discussion, and I think the congress, for the most part, is LOADED with self-interests!! I also think MOST people are either dedicated to their political parties, or JUST don't give a damn anymore. Some just don't take the time to open their eyes and see whats happening in Washington!!. (If he/she isn't making a scene, "LEAVE EM' ALONE".)

5:01 AM  

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