Let's Pass Term Limits on Congress
April 8, 2019
In 1995 Term Limits was a significant issue front and center. It failed in the Supreme Court five to four.
With Texas Senator Ted Cruz and eighty-two percent of the public supporting it and with a roughly partisan balance in Congress, now is an ideal time to address it again. The public and those who support a Convention of States deem it a first priority.
It 1995 I wrote an editorial for the Houston Business Journal showing its advantages in detail. Sadly, little progress has been made for over twenty-three years.
My earlier editorial below is comprehensive and a bit long but hopefully it is worth your time . . .
As a result of the turnover we had in the last election, some people now suggest that we no longer need term limits.
We still do. It took disapproval of the power structure by an overwhelming majority of the public for many years before we could finally have a voice. Why did it take so long? Because even though voters disapproved of Congress, they always continued to vote for their own congressional representatives.
Make no mistake, incumbent congressmen set up the system to achieve this result. Here is the system they created and how it works:
An incumbent congressman may choose his own voters through a process called gerrymandering. He sees to it that the boundary lines of his congressional district are drawn to include those voters who support him, and at the same time exclude those who support his opponent. (Read: a monopoly on customers)
An incumbent is allowed up to three offices in his district. (Read: Permanent sales offices.)
An incumbent congressman is allowed eighteen full-time and four part-time aides. (Read: Permanent sales staff.) Some are paid as much as $102,000 per year.
An incumbent congressman may use $500,000 of franked mail to promote himself to his constituents. (Read: Direct mail operation.)
An incumbent congressman earns $133,600 per year, which he receives regularly even while campaigning. (Read: Regular cash flow.)
An incumbent congressman has a sum of $5 million budgeted for his use for a number of things that directly or indirectly aid him in achieving re-election. (Read: Sufficient capital.)
An incumbent congressman is in a position to obtain government pork barrel spending for his district. (Read: Free products.)
More than 70 percent of virtually every demographic group supports term limits. Men and women, blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats, northerners and southerners - almost everyone.
Most of the public and some of the politicians correctly sense the many advantages of term limits. These advantages include the following.
A large group of experienced candidates would be created for each level of higher office.
If a U.S. House member was 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, an average of at least fifty U.S. Senators would be available to run for president or governor every six years.
It is probably no accident that three of our last four presidents were governors who had term limits, rather than U.S. Senators who did not. The term-limited governors were forced to run for something else.
Candidates having greater ability, rather than greater seniority, would be elected.
The number of years of seniority would matter little. Now, it matters greatly. Voters are understandably hesitant to turn out their longtime officeholders since this would cause them to lose the considerable clout developed by their congressman over the years. If all of the officeholders were short-timers, seniority would not matter. So voters would make their evaluations on ability alone, and we would all benefit.
Voters would be more interested in each election.
All elections would be more competitive since there would only be a small incumbent advantage. Because of this, voters would probably be more interested and more involved in the process. It would be much like a sporting event, where we are of course more interested when the score is close and the outcome is in doubt.
Congress would become a more diverse body and therefore would reflect our diverse nation.
Because challengers would have a greater chance for success, more women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities would be elected. At the same time, there would be fewer lawyers, who made up 46 percent of Congress until the most recent election.
A larger number of candidates with ability would decide to run.
Officeholders today must wait a period of 20 years to obtain enough seniority to make a contribution. People with the ability and the desire to make a difference do not wait. They achieve their satisfaction outside the government, where they can make more money or see more direct results of their efforts. People with limited ability and less of a desire to see a result or those who simply want a career in government, do not mind waiting. This is why we have ended up with more of those who are caretakers than those who are doers.
Elections would become less costly.
The cozy connections between Political Actions Committees (PACs) and lobbyists would become less cozy. No longer would their contributions benefit them to the same extent in a growing year-by-year influence on the officeholders. With a six-year limit, the return on their investment would be limited to six years, or perhaps only four or two - instead of thirty. So they would necessarily invest less in the incumbent, and he would have less money to spend on re-election. At the same time, the challenger would have to spend less money to beat the incumbent because his opponent would be less entrenched and would have less money.
Congressmen would be more seasoned with more life experience.
Since it would be much more difficult to have an uninterrupted career in public office, candidates on average would likely be much older. There would probably be many who were successful in a variety of fields and wanted “to give something back” and since they would know what conditions have allowed them to succeed, they would be able to make certain that these conditions continued to exist for those who followed them.
* * *
Some argue that term limits deprive citizens of the right to vote for the candidates of their choice, and more particularly deprive them of the right to retain experienced and greatly loved officeholders. This is not clear thinking. We are already deprived of this right in that we cannot vote for a president or most governors after they have served two terms.
Furthermore, these people apparently do not realize that most term-limit legislation allows an incumbent to run for an unlimited number of terms - but only as a write-in candidate. If an incumbent is truly loved and respected he should be able to win anyway.
Still, others say that under term limits the inexperienced officeholders would be captive to the lobbyists and to their own more experienced staffs.
I would ask these questions.
Is the President of the United States captive to his staff?
Are the governors of various states captive to their staffs?
Is the newly installed president of General Electric captive to his staff? Of course not.
A newly hired, intelligent chief executive officer (or president or governor) sets up systems and procedures that allow him to use the strengths of all people in his organization to achieve the best results. Most leaders do not know the detailed work performed by their subordinates, but they shortly gain control of their organization and focus on the overall result to be achieved. Congressmen who will have only a relatively short time in office will be no different. They will hire cooperative staffs who will focus on results instead of appearances.
The last thing this country needs is a group increasingly arrogant and imperious Republicans replacing 40 years of arrogant and imperious Democrats. Let’s enact term limits to avoid the possibility.
Vern Wuensche grew up in the tiny farming community of McDade in central Texas. He obtained a BBA and MBA from the University of Texas and holds a CPA certificate. In 1975 he founded what is now Houston’s oldest residential construction company for 42 years. He wrote a book, Overcoming Legal Abuse as an American Entrepreneur, about the difficulty of starting and running a business without a properly functioning legal system. He is an Army veteran. An early marathoner, he ran the length of Galveston Island in the early 1970’s, continuing his distance running regularly all his life. He is a Christian who is serious about his faith. An Elder for twenty years, he has regularly attended Missouri Synod Lutheran churches all his life.
But his passion has always been politics. As a child, he hung bell-shaped door hangers on doors in McDade for Eisenhower in 1956. And since 1972 he has worked on campaigns of every type, attending 22 Republican state conventions, usually as a delegate. At the same time, he continually studied presidential politics. He ran for President in 2008 and 2012 placing seventh and tenth in the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary. Details of the races can be seen at http://www.voteforvern.com His current long term project is the development of a Republican Farm Team. Anyone considering running as a Republican at any point in the future for any race should begin early, develop name identification and develop relationships with funders before they decide to run.
Visit Vern Wuensche's website at www.VoteForVern.com/