10 Reasons We Absolutely Need Term Limits for all Elected Officials
It is said that the ancient Greeks perfected the concept of democracy. Today, the United States of America uses a variation on this system called known as a “representative democracy.” In a representative democracy, the citizens have a choice in determining who will speak for them as an elected official. In a true democracy, the citizens have a say in every decision made by the government. Because the daily governance of the country is so complex, every citizen cannot have a say in each decision. Imagine being called to vote for the purchase of every hammer, nail or simply to pay the heating bill of government buildings each month. This could never work in a large, modern nation. Therefore representatives must be chosen to work for the common good.Unfortunately, many elected officials can obtain too much power or authority over time making their representation of the citizens less representative. No one person should have too much power and for too long. It is far too easy for elected officials to become out-of-touch with their constituency. With that said, the concept of term limits minimizes the amount of power any one person can gain over a period of time. It ensures that a new voice can be heard when representing populations to keep the views and wishes of the people new and fresh. Here are the ten best reasons why we must absolutely have term limits for every elected office.
10. No Specific Political Party Can Keep Control Indefinitely
In the United States, there are multiple political parties, but only two parties are considered to be major players. This has not always been the case, but over time, two parties have emerged as the only parties with significant representation. These are the Democrats and Republicans. Without term limits, community leaders with business interests, property, financial means, etc. will throw their support behind the incumbent much more often. This is because they are already in a position of power. Without term limits, there is no pre-determined end to a single person’s ability to keep an elected office. If one party can manage to get a particular individual elected to a position, without term limits, the likelihood that they can keep that seat indefinitely is more likely.
Term limits means that after a period of time, the playing field will once again be leveled and a seat will be open without an incumbent. Of course, anyone can be challenged at any election cycle, but the incumbent has a certain advantage. Political parties have an easier time predicting the jobs and districts that they can control without term limits. But when it is “anyone’s game” after a certain number of terms, it makes it up for grabs. This can open the door to third party (parties other than Republicans or Democrats) candidate having the potential to get elected if there is ample opportunity through term limits.
9. Fewer Career Politicians
Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.comPublic servants that serve in elected positions are supposed to represent the interests of the citizens. This is supposed to be a service to society as a whole. Working in an elected position is not intended as a profession, although it has become a career for many people through the years. There’s a case to be made that the best public servants are those that realize that they are doing the work of the people for a period of time until it is someone else’s turn. This article summarizes nicely why state and local governments do so well with term limits.
Term limits keep fresh ideas and perspectives in public offices. It ensures that no one individual can focus more on keeping a job and a certain level of power, than representing the public. Decisions will be made more carefully, because the servant in the particular position will again return to the citizenship without the title or power. If a public official knows that they will only have the opportunity to hold a particular job for a certain number of years, even if re-elected, they will not be as likely to consider public service as a career. There is something very noble about doing the work of the people as a service and not a job. Term limits establish this perception very nicely.
8. Less Corruption
Politicians have developed over the course of time, a reputation for being corrupt and unconcerned with their constituents. This stereotypical cliché is founded on some degree of truth due to some bad apples. The common thread with most politicians that have become more corrupt seems to be the length of time most of them have served. Usually, it seems that corruption seems to happen as time goes on in the career of a politician. Term limits seem to make this less likely because there is less time that a politician can be influenced by the power of the office that they hold.
The argument for congressional term limits has been made from time-to-time over the years with many in favor for the simple reason of cleaning out some of the corruption in Congress. Gaining momentum, some members of Congress have even proposed constitutional amendments that layout specifically how many terms both Representatives and Senators could serve before leaving office. Read the article outlining the different ideas for what Congressional term limits would look like.
It’s very sad that the potential for corruption even exists. People should want to serve simply for the sake of being leaders and good citizens. This seems to always be the way public servants start, but along the way something goes wrong. Unfortunately, the goal becomes simply “getting re-elected” rather than doing the right thing for people. While all, or even most elected leaders are not corrupt, those that are have fallen victim to the influence of power over the course of time.
7. More Opportunities For Leadership in Communities
There are a lot of great individuals that have a lot of untapped potential for leadership in communities all over the country. With no term limits, the same people keep the same offices for years upon years, in some cases for several decades. Term limits clear the ballot after a certain number of terms and allow a new group of potential candidates to make themselves known to their constituents and try for the office. Term limits have created the opportunity for younger people to get elected to public office, because there are more opportunities that present themselves. Without term limits, many talented potential leaders will simply not run for a particular office because of the challenges and battles of running against an incumbent.
Communities have a tendency to thrive when there are more people involved in community service. Of course community service is not limited to those elected to public office. Many people volunteer, or serve on community committees and commissions. This sparks interest in many people to run for elected offices. Term limits give more opportunities to individuals to share their talents and ideas for the betterment of the community, state or national government. Young people have the chance to get involved and serve in elected offices and tend to attract other young people to civic activity and political activism. Having service-oriented people serving in different elected positions, provides variety and strength to the citizenship.
6. More Options For Voters
In positions and communities without term limits, certain elected positions will often go without an opponent because no one wants to challenge the incumbent. The essay“What Term Limits Do That Ordinary Voting Cannot” discusses this point in great depth. Running a political campaign is hard work and incredibly expensive. When there is a reasonable chance that the expense and effort that goes into a campaign could result in a complete defeat, most potentially qualified candidates won’t run unless they fully believe they can win. This is one of the unfortunate side effects of not having term limits. Voters deserve a choice and they deserve the right to be well informed about the candidates. Having a wider pool of candidates more often, gives voters a chance to see new people and find out their thoughts and beliefs.
Some states provide for the opportunity to recall public officials. This allows for even more control on the part of the citizenship. A recall allows for an elected official to once again run a campaign with possible opposition even before the expiration of their normal term. Just knowing that this is a possibility is another level of accountability that gives citizens more control over their elected officials.
They get the chance to see who the candidates are and what they have accomplished in their lives to warrant their candidacy as a leader. When no one runs against an incumbent, the voters have no choice. This can be as a result of increased financial backing over the years and not because of the wonderful job the incumbent has done. If an incumbent is reelected, it should be because they have done a good and admirable job representing the people. Not because other, more qualified people couldn’t financially mount an opposition.
5. Extended Term Limits Provide Experience
There is something to be said for learning a job better over time. Political office is no different in this regard. There is a learning curve for practically every job in existence, with some requiring more time to get up-to-speed than others. The more you do a job, the better you are likely to get. With the concept of term limits, there’s a happy medium. Allowing a person an unlimited period of time to serve in a position is detrimental to the public good. This has been established by now. On the other hand, having just a few years in a position will ensure a revolving door of people that never have a firm grasp on the needs of the office. There needs to be a period of time long enough that will ensure that a person can gain and utilize experience and understanding of how the position works. An article from The Nashville Scene discusses why local communities are beginning to see benefits in keeping term limits, but extending them.
Opponents to term limits generally make the claim that there is not enough time to sufficiently learn a job and represent the people properly. When a sufficient number of terms are allowable, this argument doesn’t stand. In addition, most elected offices are not singular offices. They include a staff of people that do not necessarily come and go. Career civil servants are those that work for the government under the direction of elected officials in most cases. Not every state and every community that provides a limitation of terms does so for the right reasons, or for an appropriate amount of time. Some states that have incorporated term limits have found that their representatives don’t have the time necessary to learn the workings of the government fully. Many that are against limiting terms have not seen it work under the best circumstances.
4. Term Limits Provide For Less Corporate Influence
In a free market society, corporations will work hard to garner the necessary support for their own interests. This is part of the nature of corporate America and while it is not always a bad thing, it goes completely against the common good. Corporations are designed to provide a marketable service or product to citizens that are willing to pay. Supporting this corporate structure is what keeps our economy among the strongest in the world. There is nothing wrong with supporting a corporate business structure. But corporations should not run the government. The government is designed to serve the public as a whole.
With term limitations, corporate influence still happens, but not to the extent as it does with career politicians that have no end in sight to their public service. Corporations still look for ways to buy influence unfortunately, but this is not the fault of term limits. They now form Political Action Committees and fully fund their own candidates from the very beginning. But the system of getting people elected to public offices is far from perfect. Term limits help solve the problem, but it far from a complete and total solution.
3. Protection From Indefinite Corporate Influence
As just mentioned, corporations have walked through the open door of creating their own Political Action Committees and dumping a lot of money into them to secure a candidate and successfully run a campaign. This essentially creates the opportunity for a “brand name” place holder in the particular position. But the door swings in two directions and where there is money for one corporate interest, there is money for another. This article from Governing.com establishes a well balanced look at the influence lobbyists do and do not have with term limits.
Campaign finance reforms have helped eliminate some of the added gains congressional representatives enjoyed for far too long. Term limits takes another step in the direction of eliminating the ability of corporations to buy the influence they need for their own special interests. While there is nothing wrong with lobbying, the methods that are acceptable practices must change as a result of both term limits and campaign finance reform laws. Lobbying serves a very important function in the way it provides necessary information and guidance on one side of a particular issue.
Term limits put a sunset on when the individual that is elected as a result of a particular corporate interest will be finished in the particular office. So if a company gets their candidate elected, they will only be able to serve in that position for a finite period of time. Of course, corporations can keep finding candidates and funding campaigns, but it is an imperfect system. Term limits simply assist in leveling the playing field a bit more.
2. Less Opportunity to Outlast Usefulness
Public servants that hold elected offices have to be very sharp and work very hard. This is for the good of the people they serve. Even without corruption or selling out to corporate interests, it’s very possible for officials to lose touch, or become less effective over time. “Why Term Limits published by the Foundation for Economic Education makes this point clearly. They can simply become fatigued and less energized, but the public just may not see what is actually happening. These officials often have the financing, name recognition and influence to continue to get reelected. There are stories of people getting reelected to positions they’ve held for years while disabled or physically unable to work at the time. Without limitation of terms, this can continue to happen, causing nothing but inadequate representation for the public.
But the implementation of term limits keeps a steady, fresh supply of leaders to serve in elected offices. No one has the time or opportunity to get “stale” in a particular office, because there isn’t enough time for this to happen. Some claimed that President Franklin Roosevelt shouldn’t have served as long as he did (he even died while still serving as President.) While federal judicial appointments are not elected, there have been many judges that simply refuse to retire or give up the bench even when they have obviously reached a point where someone else could be far more effective. Term limits eliminate this unfortunate circumstance completely.
1. It Was Good Enough For the Ancient Greeks and Romans!
If it was good enough for the Greeks, it’s good enough for the United States of America. At least this is the thought of many that favor term limitations.Debate.org talks specifically about the origins of term limits in both ancient Greek and Roman societies. In ancient Greece, many offices were term limited. The Romans imposed a term limit on the position of Censor. Even the position of Dictator, could only be held for six months! These were very short terms and they established the concept of limiting power in individuals for the greater good.
Indeed, the Greeks and Romans established foundations of much of the way our world governs and keeps records. The best of these societies have continued a legacy in modern governments. The democratic principles of the Greeks and the amazing methods of record keeping and commerce by the Romans have evolved over time. In addition, the principles of not allowing any one person to hold a position of control or power for an indefinite period of time for the common good has also endured and survived the test of time.
Not everyone favors limiting terms of office. Opponents of term limits would state that it doesn’t eliminate career politicians, but rather always has them looking to the next office. Instead of qualified specialists, term limits create figureheads that have no real interest in a specific office, but rather simply working “in” government. These arguments have not stood the test of time when reasonable limitations are placed, as well as proper requirements for candidate qualification (such as a law degree and practice requirements for judges.)
But the United States system of government has been coveted by many nations since its birth. Founded on the principles of free elections where representatives are chosen to conduct the business of the people, the United States has been and continues to be a pillar of strength and unity. Limiting power held by individuals is part of what makes our nation of of the strongest and most unified in the world. There is no royalty, no dictatorship and no military rule in the United States. Limits on the terms of certain officials in state and community governments builds leaders and establishes fundamentals of public service that are cornerstones of our society.
The end result is that term limits keep more politicians honest. They create new and fresh perspectives and motivated individuals that are interested in serving the public and not simply holding an office. This accomplishment mixed with so many other positives make the limiting of terms for all elected officials well worth consideration.