Are Term Limits the Answer? That Depends.

Well, here we go again. Yep, the silly season is once again upon us. I’m talking about the upcoming election cycle. And the hot-button issue the politicians are talking about is term limits. It is a political buzz term that, according to polls, not only gets the electorate’s attention but finds the electorate in full accord with the idea that too many politicians stay in office far too long.
While I find merit in “term limits” I feel those who promote this idea fail to see the whole picture and the long-term consequences.
 Consider, when you seek help with a medical problem you undoubtedly look for a physician with the best credentials. If you were to require open-heart surgery I am confident you would choose a cardiologist with experience as opposed to one fresh out of medical school. Experience in any field counts for much, including politics.
Walt Mueller was a good friend who served for many years in the Missouri State Legislature, both House and Senate. He was a rarity in politics as he avoided the political limelight choosing instead to do his best in the interest of his constituents. He viewed term limits with skepticism and with good reason.
Senator Mueller pointed out that when you first attain elective office you, as a novice, are at the mercy of the bureaucracy – the executive branch. Through years of experience bureaucrats know how the political game is played. They are experts at bureaucratic slight-of-hand and can run rings around the political novice. Lack of experience, he pointed out, empowers the executive branch made up of unelected bureaucrats.
As I noted earlier, I believe there is merit to limiting the time politicians hold office, but in the interest of good government term limits needs to be more narrowly defined.  
Those who understand how the legislative process works know that in the legislature power lies with those who chair committees. It is they who can kill a Bill by assigning it to an unfriendly sub-committee or not allowing a Bill out of their committee. It is for this reason I believe consideration of limiting time in office should be more broadly considered.
  1. If the electorate wishes to limit the terms of office it should be for not more than twelve years.
  2. As real power lies in those who chair committees, the time in which a legislator can consecutively serve as Chair or Vice Chair of a committee on which he/she currently sits should be limited to no more that 4 years.
It is my contention that this approach will rein in the power of politicians who because of their seniority wield nearly unfettered power for years out of sight of the electorate.
Politicians who declare their support for term limits point to the Founders who believed the office to which they were elected was to be a “part time” job and not the lifetime career it has become for too many. Today, many running for office are critical of those who have served for years if not decades.
But after being elected too many of these same politicians ignore their campaign slogans and promises as they have become a member of the legislative club and to get along are reluctant to rock the boat by pushing term limits. Sure, there are those who will sponsor term limit legislation knowing it will make them look good to their constituents, but they are also confident that it will be as dead as road kill and they will blame others for its defeat.