Archive for Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Letter: Term limits

October 17, 2012

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To the editor:

I believe that senators and congressmen/women from Kansas do not deserve to be re-elected because:

  1. They are playing partisan politics instead of working together to serve the people that elected them.

  2. Many of these legislators seem to be more interested in raising campaign funds and catering to the wealthy instead of making decisions beneficial to the average voter.

  3. Some of our legislators were aware there were inspections done in Iraq before this past war and that no evidence of weapons of mass destruction was ever found yet they supported the war. Many lives were lost unnecessarily and the burden on the middle class taxpayer has been substantial.

Lastly, I would like to suggest that all legislators be limited to the same number of terms as our commander-in-chief. This will limit undue influence by big business and lobbyist groups on campaigns. Why should someone running for Congress be able to hold office longer than the president?

I also believe that lifetime benefits for congressmen should be revoked. Not many jobs have lifetime benefits for as little as a two-year term in office. Retirement benefits are being cut for many workers who have put in years of service, so why should the taxpayers foot the bill for legislators to have lifetime benefits? How much would this lower my taxes or yours? Maybe if legislators had to depend on Medicare or Social Security like the average person, they would be more interested in keeping/fixing these programs.

Comments

Liberty275 2 years, 7 months ago

Term limits have one purpose - limiting the candidates that citizens are allowed to vote for.

Why do people want fewer choices during elections? That makes no sense.

We have adequate term limits already - it's called "losing elections".

jhawkinsf 2 years, 7 months ago

What choices do we have, REALLY? Only two. Look at a copy of the Constitution. Does it say two party system? Does it mention Democrats and Republicans? The fact is that our government has been hijacked by these two parties who are now holding firm to their power. Representatives who tow the party line, party platforms, party this and party that. And no one seems interested in what's best for the United States of America. If you really want more choices in candidates, then do whatever you can to make third party candidates a viable option. Number one on that list of what you can do is if there is a third party candidate that has positions most closely aligned with your own, then vote for that person, regardless of whether or not they have a chance of winning. Vote your conscience. If picking winners and losers is more important, then go to a horse race.

Liberty275 2 years, 7 months ago

"What choices do we have, REALLY? Only two"

Libertarian, Green, Communist... Some others too.

" Look at a copy of the Constitution. Does it say two party system? Does it mention Democrats and Republicans?"

If you term limit our representatives, do you think people are going to hop party lines? The Rs will still vote R. the Ds will still vote D and I'll still vote for me... as you all should.

" hijacked by these two parties"

hijacked by voters <--- fixed that for you.

Instead of term limits, we should have instant run-offs. That might actually fix the problem.

boltzmann 2 years, 7 months ago

I agree with you on term limits. Having term limits means that you have a Congress populated by the inexperienced - who would be just as beholden to outside interests as incumbents - probably more so due to their inexperience.

Instant run offs would be much better idea. That way we would ensure that a) the winning candidate did at least get some endorsement from greater than 50% of the electorate and b) a vote for a third party is not "wasted". b) would definitely give third parties a chance to build up a base.

2 years, 7 months ago

Another choice that would fix the problem (assuming that only 2 parties is a problem) would be at-large congressional elections. The main reason we have two parties is because we have winner-take all districts.

Rather than having 4 separate elections for Kansas congresscritters, think about what would happen if we elected 4 people at large (or California elected 56 at large). Parties could run up to one person per seat to be chosen, but there's a drawback: the more candidates you run, the more your vote is split. In Kansas, the Dems could guarantee at least one seat by running one Dem against 4 Republicans; they might even gamble on 2. In Cali, surely the Greenies and Libertarians could manage to get a candidate 1 or 2% of the vote, while the other parties would have to decide in primaries or conventions how many candidates they could afford to run.

The best result is that your representative is no longer just the guy for your district - if you voted for someone and that person won, you can consider him your representative no matter what side of arbitrary, court-imposed lines you live. Everyone gets to vote for someone rather than voting against someone half the time. Of course, the fact that such an arrangement weakens the parties ensures that it will never come to pass.

Districts based in geography in which there is only one winner lend themselves naturally to a binary party structure, as the Founding Fathers learned very quickly, much to their chagrin. The Dems and Republicans are just the most recent beneficiaries of what the Federalists designed back in 1787.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 7 months ago

I agree with this idea. And if we'd go back to the same number of residents per district that existed 100 or so years ago when the current number of reps were set, we'd need to triple the number of representatives.

That's probably too many, but we could double the number, giving Kansas 8 representatives. That'd allow Kansas to be divided into two or three districts, in which candidates would be elected at large, not winner-take-all.

Eliminate the Senate while we're at it, or at least get away from the stupid system that gives states like Wyoming the same number of senators as California. If we still want to give small states a little edge in representation, go to one that would give states like Wyoming one senator, and the largest states up to five senators.

jhawkinsf 2 years, 7 months ago

"Eliminate the Senate" - Or we can eliminate the Constitution while we're at it.

The problem is that compromises were made in the very beginning. These compromises we designed to ease the fears of the smaller states, who were afraid the big states would overwhelm them. What you're proposing now is to go back on those compromises. What do you propose be given the smaller states to compensate them for what they would be losing?

George_Braziller 2 years, 7 months ago

Getting some new blood is reason enough. You really think that Strom Thurmond was effective after 48 years? People voted for him just because they recognized his name.

Nothing wrong with having a politician sit out an election cycle after a certain number of years. They could always run for the same office again. Some would be re-elected, some wouldn't.

jafs 2 years, 7 months ago

If people want "new blood", they can just vote for it.

George_Braziller 2 years, 7 months ago

A lot of people just vote for a name they recognize on the ballot or base the decision on if there is an "R" or a "D" next to the name.

jafs 2 years, 7 months ago

That's their choice then.

The point is that term limits aren't necessary - people can vote for whomever they like, and if they don't like the incumbents, they can vote for "new blood".

jhawkinsf 2 years, 7 months ago

Couldn't your argument be extended to simply voting out candidates who receive large amounts of PAC or special interest money? Simply vote them out. Then there would be no greater imperative to limit money spent as there would be to impose term limits.

jafs 2 years, 7 months ago

Maybe.

But, there's clear evidence that money spent results in winning elections.

And, once a candidate starts trying to run for office, they very quickly wind up needing money, so it's unlikely we'd be able to find very many who haven't taken a bunch of it.

jhawkinsf 2 years, 7 months ago

Let me ask you this. Are you saying that the corrupting influence of money is an obstacle to people making informed decisions and therefore needs to be limited, while incumbency may be an obstacle, but one that an informed electorate can overcome simply by voting, therefore no such remedy like terms limits is necessary? If we take your two positions together, isn't that the logical conclusion?

Or to put it another way, the people need to be protected from themselves (their inability to make informed choices) when it comes to the influence of money, but they do not need to be protected from themselves (they are informed enough to simply vote people out) when it comes to term limits. A semi-informed electorate?

jafs 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm saying that the corrupting influence of money is a real problem, and that incumbency isn't one.

Unless people don't know they can vote, and how to do that.

We're not there yet, I think.

And, that, given the reality of politics, if money continues to be such an influence, there won't be any candidates around that haven't already been corrupted by it.

jhawkinsf 2 years, 7 months ago

Maybe you're right. I do wonder through if we compared a couple of numbers. What percentage of candidates that outspend their opponents and then go on to victory and then compare that number with what percentage of incumbents win? I suspect both will be very high.

I just think if you assume an informed electorate that can make good choices about whether or not to retain an incumbent, then you have to assume an informed electorate that can overcome the corrupting influence of money. If you assume a poorly informed electorate that cannot make good choices when it comes to incumbency, then you have to assume a poorly informed electorate when it comes to the influence of money.

Either that, or that old cliche about everyone hates Congress, but likes their own representative, it's true. The implication of that is that the polls don't matter at all, Congress is doing great. Who believes that?

jafs 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't assume an informed electorate.

I just say that they can vote incumbents out if they want to, that's all.

George_Braziller 2 years, 7 months ago

Office of the President has term limits. Why not other elected officials?

jhawkinsf 2 years, 7 months ago

By way of example, let's look at President Clinton, who was term limited out of office and what has happened since. Since he left office, we've had two, well, let's be kind and say less than stellar presidents. And by many accounts, that will continue for at least another four years. But look at Clinton today. I'd bet my last dollar that if he were able to run again today, he'd win easily. And if true, why should the voter be denied that right? And of course, with what I suspect would be an overwhelming victory, would come a mandate that those on the other side of the aisle would find hard to ignore. But specifically because he was a term limited lame duck in his last four years and because he can never again run, we'll never have what I think many voters want.

2 years, 7 months ago

There are always tradeoffs. While term limits (which I generally support) do not limit the influence of big business or big labor or big anyone else, they do limit the power accumulation of individual politicians. Among those who still believe that power corrupts, this is generally considered a positive.

On the downside, the reduction of power in the person of elected officials results in a corresponding increase in the power of the bureaucracy who are, in the midst of "newbie" politicians, the only people who actually know how the government works. For those who think that government ought to be responsive to the voters, this is a decided negative.

Like every other case, we do not get to pick a perfect system, we merely get to pick our poison.

Clara Westphal 2 years, 7 months ago

There should be term limits for the Supreme Court members too.

jhawkinsf 2 years, 7 months ago

Then they become even more partisan than they are now. Several recent justices, especially those nominated by Republicans, have tuned out to be far more moderate than expected. Without that lifetime tenure, that might not have happened.

For all the bluster about this court being so conservative, one of today's most contentious issues, abortions, remains intact. That happens with lifetime tenure. Imagine Roe being overturned and then reinstated, then overturned and reinstated again. And Again. That's a likely result of term limits on the Supreme Court.

jhawkinsf 2 years, 7 months ago

No, not Scalia. But how about Souter, Kennedy, Stevens? How about Powell, Blackmun, Burger? Even Roberts' deciding vote in ACA might not happen with a term limited Supreme Court.

The fact is that a truly independent judiciary is more likely with lifetime appointments as opposed to term limited justices.

jhawkinsf 2 years, 7 months ago

With lifetime appointments, justices can and do serve decades. I guess my definition of recent is within my adult lifetime. Then, all on my list qualify.

Ken Lassman 2 years, 7 months ago

To get back to the topic at hand, the purpose of term limits is clearly and primarily to prevent officeholders from becoming career politicians, more concerned about their own career as a congressperson, than being a true representative of the citizens of that district/state. Without term limits, too many congresspeople snuggle up to the monied interests that may or may not represent the average citizen, simply because in return the special interest writes out a big check to help finance the congressperson's next campaign. It's no surprise that as a result of this, incumbents have a huge advantage over new candidates, and if re-electing an incumbent was because everyone is so happy with the job of the congressperson, why is the approval rating of congress itself so low?

Term limits is just one tool we need to level the playing field a little bit between incumbents and new candidates who run against them. It would work on many levels: 1) If the incumbent didn't have to constantly hustle for money because they knew they couldn't run for more than a couple of terms anyway, they might be more willing to vote their conscience and not offend the big buck contributors; 2) Monied special interests might have less sway in getting their man (or woman) in to vote their way simply because of #1; 3) the quality of the candidates might improve considerably as folks with a solid record in the community begin to see the positions as a temporary service to their community instead of a career track.

To make term limits work even more effectively, serious campaign reform should accompany to rein in the extreme amounts of money needed to run a campaign and to make it much more transparent who is funding those campaigns.

jafs 2 years, 7 months ago

Your last paragraph is much more the answer than term limits.

With term limits, we'd just get a more quickly revolving door of corrupt politicians - even if they won't be contributing to future campaigns, they'll still be open to various forms of incentives and deals.

For example, politicians often get cushy jobs with industries they were supposed to be regulating when in office if they leave.

The real problem is money, and the corrupting influence of money, not terms.

Ken Lassman 2 years, 7 months ago

Agreed. We need both, since instead of a revolving door of corrupt politicians, we now have a group of career corrupt politicians. The term limits would further decrease the attractiveness of a congress position to those who see it as a way to line their own pockets, therefore it is worth pursuing at the same time as campaign reform. In fact, it is a good first step that makes the passage of significant campaign reform legislation more probable.

jafs 2 years, 7 months ago

I disagree.

We'd just have a revolving door of corruption.

There are many ways to line one's pockets in one or two terms.

As long as money infiltrates politics, there will be corruption and the consequent failure of our system to operate as it should.

If we don't like the folks in office, we can always vote them out - I see no need to impose term limits.

Ken Lassman 2 years, 7 months ago

You know, when I started poking around to see the effects of term limits on states that have adopted in for their legislatures, the effect was not all that positive. Here's a good site: http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/legisdata/ncsl-joint-project-on-term-limits-2005-case-study.aspx

...and it appears that the overall impact was negative on the whole, as the legislatures lost power relative to the executive branch, the ability to filter out bad/poorly written bills declined, the skill level of the leadership declined due to lack of experience, and instead of citizen lobbyists, most state legislative positions became stepping stones for city and county government officials.

I definitely learned something new here and no longert think term limits is such a great idea. However, I don't think the built-in advantages of incumbents make a bad legislator an easy target to remove. I think serious limits on the amount able to be spent in an election campaign, combined with some good candidate forums would be good for government at every level. More information and less slanderous mail circulars will give democracy a much better run.

jafs 2 years, 7 months ago

Interesting - I wouldn't have necessarily thought there would be a negative effect like that, just that it wouldn't improve things.

Completely agree on the money issue - that's the root of the problem.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 7 months ago

Term limits would also increase the power of (unelected) career staffers, since they would know the ropes and lobbyists of Washington (or state capitols) better than the term-limted legislators would.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 7 months ago

Playing partisan politics is definitely a problem. I'll bet they'd work together to prevent term limits.

Carol Bowen 2 years, 7 months ago

"I also believe that lifetime benefits for congressmen should be revoked. Not many jobs have lifetime benefits for as little as a two-year term in office. Retirement benefits are being cut for many workers who have put in years of service, so why should the taxpayers foot the bill for legislators to have lifetime benefits? How much would this lower my taxes or yours? Maybe if legislators had to depend on Medicare or Social Security like the average person, they would be more interested in keeping/fixing these programs."

Congressmen do not get lifetime benefits. They contribute to Social Security, Medicare, and a 403B (401K). There is a small pension. To be minimally eligible for retirement, they have to serve at least three years. The amount of benefit is based on the salary of the three highest consecutive years of service, the number of years served, and their age. This has been true since Jan. 1, 1984.

KSWingman 2 years, 7 months ago

The only way to enact term limits for Federal offices is through a Constitutional amendment.

Good luck with that.

jayhaitch 2 years, 7 months ago

Looks like Jack believes all the false rumors about congressional retirement plans.

"As it is for all other federal employees, congressional retirement is funded through taxes and the participants' contributions. Members of Congress under FERS contribute 1.3 percent of their salary into the FERS retirement plan and pay 6.2 percent of their salary in Social Security taxes.

Members of Congress are not eligible for a pension until they reach the age of 50, but only if they've completed 20 years of service. Members are eligible at any age after completing 25 years of service or after they reach the age of 62. Please also note that Members of Congress have to serve at least 5 years to even receive a pension.

The amount of a congressperson's pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest 3 years of his or her salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.

According to the Congressional Research Service, 413 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of Oct. 1, 2006. Of this number, 290 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $60,972. A total of 123 Members had retired with service under both CSRS and FERS or with service under FERS only. Their average annual pension was $35,952 in 2006.

Corey Williams 2 years, 7 months ago

Why don't we cut the pensions and give them all 401k plans.

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