The question of term limits and their importance in local city government, has cropped up again in Nevada politics. However, the reasons why term limits are so important may not be as clearly defined as some assume. The key argument against term limits revolves around the idea of “denying citizens the right to vote for who they choose.” An idea which must, by its very nature, ignore the fact that long serving incumbent politicians hold a decidedly unfair advantage in terms of name recognition and money-raising power.
When the framers of the Constitution were defining our federal government, its branches and its duties, they were basing their structure on British Parliament. An executive, a House of Lords and the House of Commons. The executive branch is easy to identify and has had clear term limits established by the very first president, George Washington. The founding fathers did not want an oligarchy or a monarchy, they wanted a government “By the People.” Without the necessary restrictions of term limits, “the People” would soon devolve down to a very small, very powerful, very rich group of elites.
The Senate is America’s version of the House of Lords; each state only gets two senators, with a single term in the Senate being six years. Senators are supposed to be political elites; establishment Washington people. America’s House of Commons is Congress. Congressman are chosen based on a state’s population; they serve a two-year term because their service is supposed to only be a brief interruption to their private life and business. The people elected to Congress are supposed to be direct representatives of the populations they live in, giving voice to local concerns at the federal level.
Local politics at a city and county level may not have as many branches, but they serve the same purpose. The city council is supposed to be made up of local business people, who are drafted out of their local population to serve. However, as is the nature of politics, every councilperson wants to be mayor, every mayor wants to be a representative, every representative wants to be a congressman, every congressman wants to be a senator and every senator wants to be president. Unfortunately, for those politicians whose innate skills will not allow them to advance up the steps to higher office, serving for decades in the same chair still allows them to amass great power.
Term limits serve as the best buffer to keep those career minded – if mediocre – political types, from gumming up the system. Which is why term limits are so very important. A politician working without term limits, is a politician working purely on reelection and amassing power. “We the People” will only have a say in the governance of the country, if regular people are allowed the opportunity to run for office on a level playing field. Term limits serve to level that field.
Some might argue that term limits keep the best and brightest politicians, those who serve their communities with honor and distinction, from continuing their good works. While that may be true, it also keeps “new blood” from entering the game, and reinvigorating the entire process. It also serves to allow truly awful politicians the opportunity to run on “their experience” while hiding the fact that it was their actions specifically, which brought about the crisis. Those politicians seem to want to say “I recognize this problem, because I was integral in the creation of the problem, therefore, you should rehire me to solve the problem.” Interestingly, that particular arguments never seems to fly in the private sector.
On a local level, eight of the ten largest cities in America have voted in term limits on their city councils and their mayors, with thousands of smaller cities following their cue. Fifteen State legislatures also have term limits. The Nevada State Constitution for instance, Article 15, Section 3, Item 2: “No person may be elected to any state office or local governing body who has served in that office, or at the expiration of his current term if he is so serving will have served, 12 years or more…”
Clearly, when regular citizens are allowed the opportunity to vote on the idea of term limits, those who do vote, vote “For.” Primarily, the people who do not want to term limits, tend to be power-hungry politicians and the citizens they have fooled. A government by the people, can only exist when “the people” are allowed the opportunity to run for office. Career minded politicians, without the restraints imposed upon them by term limits, completely choke out the opportunity for anyone of “the people” to effectively run against them. That reason alone is why term limits are so very important.
Editorial by Ben Gaul
TermLimits.org New York Times