Seventy percent of voters in both political parties support term limits.
American voters, having wonderful common sense, know that many incumbents who increase their power year by year become more and more disconnected from their voters. In Lord John Dalberg-Acton’s well-worn assessment: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Look at the benefits that would accrue from term limits.
Many experienced candidates would become available for each level of higher office. If a U.S. House member were limited to a maximum of three two-year terms, an average of at least 145 experienced U.S. House members would be available to run for U.S. senator or governor every two years.
If a U.S. senator was limited to a maximum of two six-year terms, a minimum of 33 experienced U.S. senators would be available to run for governor or president every six years.
Today voters are understandably hesitant to lose the considerable clout of their long-time congressman developed over many years. But if all were short-timers, that would not be important. Voters would be more likely to elect candidates having great ability rather than seniority, as seniority would not matter.
Without the advantages held by long-time incumbents, elections would be more competitive. Voters would likely be more interested and more likely to be active in the election process.
Many more capable candidates would decide to run. Those entertaining running today realize they must wait decades to obtain enough seniority to contribute. So those with ability, desiring to make a difference rapidly, will do something else. However, those who are more passive and only want a career in government do not mind waiting, which is why Congress today has more caretakers than doers.
Members of Congress would be seasoned, having more years of experience. As an uninterrupted career in public office would be more difficult, candidates would likely be much older. There would probably be many who were successful in various fields and wanted “to give something back.” This greater wisdom would benefit us all.
Yet some argue that term limits deprive citizens of the right to vote for their chosen candidates while at the same time not allowing them the right to retain experienced and greatly loved officeholders. But we are already deprived of this right because we cannot vote for a president or most governors after the two terms they have served. To overcome this objection, an incumbent could be allowed to run, but only as a write-in candidate. A truly loved and respected incumbent should be able to win anyway.
Still, others say that under term limits, the inexperienced officeholders would be captive to their own more experienced staff and lobbyists. Not true. Any successful leader shortly after taking a position hires and trains a team that will deliver their objectives. And being effective in doing that will take less effort today as the recent Supreme Court decision has reduced the administrative state’s power. That decision alone will allow those in Congress to have more control of legislation.
The Articles of Confederation, which preceded our Constitution, included term limits. However, our founders at the time did not believe that any member of Congress would want to spend much time in fetid, swampy Washington, D.C., so they did not include term limits.
Candidates could help themselves and America today by supporting them.
Vern Wuensche’s opinion pieces have appeared in USA Today and other newspapers. He is a small-town Texas farm boy with an MBA and CPA who founded and continuously ran Houston’s oldest residential construction company for 43 years. He is a lifelong active Republican, a Christian, a veteran, and an early marathoner who ran for president in 2008 and 2012, visiting 6,000 small businesses in 242 towns in Iowa and New Hampshire.
This commentary was provided to the News-Press by The Center Square, a nonprofit dedicated to journalism.