by Stacey Selleck
While the main mission of U.S. Term Limits is to place term limits on Congress via an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, we also advocate for term limits on other elected offices as well. Our organization was integral to passing the state legislature term limits that currently exist in fifteen states.
Of course, the reasons for placing term limits on local legislators closely reflects the same reasons to impose term limits on members of Congress. Some of these, and a few others, are:
- Term limits encourage independence as they sever relationships between special interest groups and members of the legislature which helps reduce the power of lobbyists.
- To answer the concern of having inexperienced lawmakers in the legislature, it is well documented that experienced legislators help newer members get up to speed quickly… many of these have real-world experience or have been previously elected to lower offices.
- With respect to having inexperienced members in Congress, there is precedence that term limited state lawmakers are more likely to challenge an incumbent member of Congress than state lawmakers who do not face term limits. State legislators without term limits typically wait for a seat to open up or for the incumbent to suffer with a negative reputation, weakening his or her re-election campaign. Term limits would remove the largest barrier to quality state lawmakers challenging congressional seats.
- This also leads to a supply of experienced challengers for other elected offices including Governor, cabinet, President and local offices.
- Term limits on state legislators shifts focus to incumbent members of Congress whose years in office have well surpassed those of other elected officials in the state.
- There is evidence that there is increased innovative legislation when long-time legislators have a deadline thrust on them due to term limits.
- Term limited legislators are incentivized to enact more detailed legislation and to exert more control over the process in order to ensure that their preferences will be implemented without agency interpretations.
- In order to form a government of, by, and for the people, ordinary citizens, not career politicians, must be elected to office. Term limits open seats forcing out careerists who are more beholden to the institution than they are to those they were elected to represent.
- Term limits helps introduce new ideas and fresh perspectives that reflect the times and the attitudes of the current constituency rather than the old ideas of generations past.
- Term limits improve citizen access to the process, encourage candidates to run for office and work on meaningful campaigns, and increase voter participation in elections.
- Term limits mandate rotation in office which expands the circle of citizens with intimate knowledge of how the state government works, thereby increasing transparency and oversight and discouraging corruption.
- Incumbents have a substantial advantage over challengers virtually eliminating a chance for virgorously contested elections.
- “Entrenched incumbency . . . has led to an electoral system that is less free, less competitive, and less representative than the system established by the Founding Fathers” (quoted in Biskupic 1995)
It shouldn’t be too surprising that five out of the top five states with the most open seat, competitive elections are term limited states, and 12 out of the top 15. To add to the benefits of state legislative term limits, research from George Mason University suggests that states with term limits on their legislatures are more likely to have a top level fiscal condition as compared to non-term limited states.
Term limits on state office holders come with a pletora of benefits that include fairer more competitive elections, more citizen involvement in a more democratic process, a highly engaged legislative body accountable to and reflective of the electorate, as well as more detailed legislation and better legislative performance.