America Deserves Term Limits

Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah

Our founders framed the American governing system with an eye to mitigate the likelihood of one group, faction, class, party, or religion gaining and exerting dominance over another. By limiting what government could do, they also limited what government would be asked to do, particularly by powerful interests.

The only government capable of preserving harmony within a diverse, pluralistic, melting pot-like society with different and even rival views, cultures, and demands was one which could not be controlled by any of the many groups living within its jurisdiction. Should the government have the power to benefit the rich and well connected class, the rich and well connected will work to use that power to benefit themselves, as would any group regardless of socio-economic status or other distinctive quality, who saw the opportunity.

It is human nature.

The scope of the federal government has since grown far beyond what was originally intended. No matter if you see this as cause for celebration or mourning you would agree that government now wields substantial influence and impact over many demographics in the United States, both cultural and economic.

With this expanded ability so comes expanded interest from the groups which government has power over. From these interested groups come efforts to direct policy in their favor. Who do they see as their agent of change? Your elected officials in Congress.

So begins the lobbying, the friendship building, and the shifting of institutional support behind legislators who support a particular interest. The longer a legislator is in office the stronger the support.

Limiting the amount of terms a legislator spends in office would decrease the influence those interests have on the legislator’s vote because the legislator is not reliant on them for re-election. While they know they are exiting office on a given date their focus can shift from politics for their own good to policy for the common good.

A common rebuttal to constitutionally imposed term limits is that elected officials can already be removed from office through the traditional election process. To those who make this claim, would you then support the removal of term limits on the President? If not, ask yourself why you would not.

Term limits are so critical because incumbents have an inherent advantage over challengers that distorts the electoral process. When elected to office a legislator is given a bully pulpit with quicker access to the media and a line to funding from moneyed interests. The longer they sit in that position the stronger they get.

This funding allows incumbents to reach a larger number of voters. While terms limits certainly would not level the playing field completely, they would do much to disincentivize legislators’ courting of support from well-funded industries.

Some may claim that those who support term limits do not have faith in the decisions of the electorate. My claim is just the opposite. If the electorate was equally presented with two or more arguments they would choose the more well reasoned and persuasive candidate. The problem is that incumbents have more money from special interests to purchase media time to reach voters that other, less well funded candidates do not.

This is a logistical problem, not one of a lack of intelligence among the general populace.
Conservatives want to limit government. Liberals want fair government. Term limits, an additional restraint on the government, will only help to facilitate a less biased and more accountable elected body of lawmakers, further enabling our democratic republican system to function as intended by our founders.
Charles HarelsonChris Harelson, Orem, UT is chairman of the North American Executive Board with Students For Liberty and Utah state chair with Young Americans for Liberty.

A version of this article first appeared in “The Salt Lake Tribune.”