I saw a short clip of Trump’s speech yesterday. The one in which he outlined what he would do in his first 100 days as President. If I heard it correctly, he indicated that the first thing he would to is seek a constitutional amendment that would provide for term limits for members of Congress.
I know this is a popular idea, with wide appeal among not only the conservatives among us, but also plenty of liberals. I get it. There’s a certain amount of “throw the bums out” mentality that makes sense. The system is dysfunctional, politicians don’t seem responsive to the American people. They don’t fix the problems our country faces. Therefore, we must do something different. Term limits. Throw the damn bums out.
But what if that actually makes the system worse?
California has had term limits for all statewide officials and for all members of the Legislature for 20 years. It is a system that has failed to make things any better than they were and as far as I’m concerned have harmed our political system.
Without term limits, many politicians get elected to a body (city council, board of supervisors, state Assembly, state Senate, etc.) and can remain there — developing expertise and a sense of loyalty to the institution of which they are a part. They do not need to concern themselves with what will be the next office they run for. They can establish themselves in that body and use their developing expertise in one place with consistency and stability. Because of the power and influence they obtain by remaining in that body over the years, they can compete with the power of special interests and lobbyists.
With term limits, those politicians are always looking to the next office they need to aspire to if they want to continue their career in politics. They don’t develop loyalty to the institution because they will only be there for a few years — instead, they develop an interest in what the institution can do for them for the next office they aspire to. They don’t develop an expertise that they can then use in that body for years to come … because they won’t be there for years to come. Instead, they end up relying more and more and more on the unaccountable special interests and lobbyists to feed them information and tell them what they should do.
In a world of term limits, it is the special interests, lobbyists, and consultants who hold the power.
If you think the point of all of this is that we don’t want professional politicians, than you’re ignoring that that is a battle that has been lost. There have always been and will always be a group of people who desire to make their mark in the political arena — and I’m not sure why that is viewed with such negativity. And ultimately, with the role of money and special interests in our political system, something I’m not sure is a desirable objective. Politicians who are ultimately answerable to the voters every two, four, or six years, or special interests and their consultants and lobbyists who owe the voters nothing.
If, like Trump, you support term limits, you stand for the latter instead of the former. I really wish we could get rid of this idea of term limits once and for all. They have made things worse in California, as they would in Congress.