Sunday, June 25, 2017

Term Limits

When I was very much younger and living in the Southeast, I was opposed to term limits for the House and Senate. My rationale was that the South was a minority region when compared to the Northeast, Middlewest, and Pacific Coast. The one way the South could compete in Congress was with seniority. The South tended to re-elect their representatives over and over again. At one time, seniority was almost the only criteria for committee chairs and other congressional leadership posts. So, although the South might only hold 20 to 25% of the votes, they controlled a higher percentage or even a majority of the powerful committees and leadership positions. Those positions allowed the South to get many federal programs, facilities, grants, military bases and other advantages over the years.

Those same good ole boys used that power and seniority to prolong segregation and otherwise block progress. They were happy as pigs in shit to keep the country in the first half of the 20th century. They liked for white Christian males to be completely in charge, although their views were hardly Christian. No Blacks, no women, no Jews, certainly no Muslims, no Hispanics, no Asians. LGBTQ folks weren't even considered human. Did I miss any marginalized groups? And yet, fundamentally, I have a problem with telling voters that they can't elect their favorite candidate because he/she had been around too long despite doing a good job. 

That was then, this is now. Those Dixiecrats abused their power back then. While getting funding for federal projects in their states, they opposed human rights. It was a bad trade-off. 

I changed my mind about term limits several years ago. I think we have two choices. Either a federal law limiting terms in Congress or a complete revamping of the way congressional leaders, committee chairs and members are chosen. I vote for term limits since there probably isn't any way to limit the influence of longtime members. 

I'm not sure what the correct term limits should be. I certainly don't want to turn the Congress completely over every election. I would think 12 (6 terms) years for the House and 18 years (3 terms) for the Senate would ensure enough turnover and eliminate career politicians. Those terms would still overlap or outlast a president. I wouldn't be opposed to 10 years (5 terms) and 12 years (2 terms). Being an old fart, I prefer the 12 & 18 option to allow some more continuity. There would still be turnover besides the imposed term limits. Some members would decide to retire, some would be forced to resign, some wouldn't run for re-election, and some would lose their re-election bid. You also have the more rare circumstance when a member of Congress gets appointed to another government position.

Regardless of the specifics, we need a change. The professional politician has turned into the professional money raiser, the professional lobbyist, and the professional re-election machine.Their main job is to get re-elected, not serve the country or even their constituents. 

At one time, the career politician may have been altruistic and concerned about the country and his constituency. No more. This is not a Democrat of Republican problem. It is a money and power problem. 

If politicians want to spend more than 10 or 15 years as an elected official, let them start and/or end at the state or local level before or after their stint in Washington. Many states and locales already have term limits. 

Term limits, a concept way past it's time for consideration at the federal level.


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