Reflections on National Term Limits Day


By Christopher Cooper

February 27 what? National day of duration limits. While it didn’t exactly wipe out the nation, politicians and citizens alike posted on Twitter (#TermLimitsDay), placed signs in their backyard, and otherwise made it known that they thought the politicians’ terms should be limited. Heck, there’s even a podcast dedicated to movement.

Surveys that ask questions about the problem consistently find that duration limits are popular with the public. For example, a McLaughlin and Associates survey found that 82% of the public support mandate limits. A 2013 GallupPoll came to a similar conclusion: 75% of people surveyed supported term limits for members of the US House and Senate. Various state
polls also indicate strong support for term limits. The data from the polls speak for themselves: people like mandate limits.

It’s easy to see why term limits are so popular: Trust in government is at an all-time low, people don’t like Congress, don’t like state legislature, don’t like politicians in general, yet incumbents win the vast majority. sometimes. So why don’t we just “throw out the bums“And start over every few years?

The problem is that term boundaries don’t solve the problems they were supposed to solve. They introduce new ones.

States have been tinkering with the limits of the legislative mandate for years. 15 states currently have term limits for their state legislatures: Maine, California, Colorado, Arkansas, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Louisiana, and Nevada. By comparing the various results before and after mandate limits in these states, political scientists have learned a lot about the effects of mandate limits. In general, the news is not good for supporters of the mandate limit.

Part of the problem lies in the decline in legislative competence that follows the implementation of mandate limits. When seasoned politicians are relieved of their duties, they are replaced by new lawmakers who may have difficulty finding the copier or understanding where good coffee is, much less understanding the intricacies of health policy, the pros and cons of choosing a school. or whether energy deregulation produces better results.

To make matters worse, when lawmakers lack information, there is one group that is always ready to provide interested information to lawmakers: lobbyists. According to Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson and Lyke ThompsonAfter the mandate limits were implemented in Michigan, “the links between lobbyists and lawmakers” were closer than they were before. At the same time, the state senators after the term limits were less likely to seek advice and information from local officials. In their words, “Without this street-level perspective, lawmakers are deprived of information on how policies affect daily life in their local communities. This has potentially profound effects for the state and its citizens.”

But what about the characteristics of the legislators themselves? One of the promises of term limits was that they could relieve us of the demographic prejudices that pervade our electoral system, but sadly that promise has not been fulfilled. Fixed-term legislatures are no longer varied in terms of race, gender or economic class compared to limited legislatures without a mandate. Furthermore, mandate limits do not translate into significantly younger lawmakers.

Implementing the duration limits manages to kick the bums out, but they are only replaced by a different group of bums who look awfully similar to those who have just been relieved of their duties.

To add insult to injury, Sarbaugh-Thompson and Thompson discover that the “The biggest difference between the new breed of lawmakers (pre-term boundary) and the old one (post-term boundary) is that the post-term boundary race is far more politically ambitious than their predecessors.“(p. 287). If you elect people with the guarantee that they will be fired in a few years, they will take office with an exit plan already in place. In politics, that exit plan means they will try to get a higher office right away. .

In terms of to be a politician, the evidence also takes sides against the limits of the mandate. Fixed-term legislatures approve policies that reflect less public opinion than fixed-term legislatures. Also, while committees provide a measure of competence and specialization in limited-time states, that competence and knowledge of the domain diminishes when lawmakers are temporary.

Duration limits are an idea that sums it up well. Who would not seize the opportunity to replace the current group of lawmakers with a more diverse one, one who considers more prospects and is not motivated by re-election? The problem is that while mandate limits actually increase turnover, there is no mechanism to ensure that the new group of lawmakers are more altruistic, representative, or accountable than those who have just left.

Ultimately, elections remain the best way we have to hold our politicians accountable. We should strengthen the electrical connection, rather than weaken it by imposing duration limits.


Chris Cooper is Madison’s professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University. Tweet a @criscoperwcu.


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