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Term limits encourage more inclusion

Submitted by Scott Foster on March 2, 2016 – 4:18 pmNo Comment

I have watched many of my friends debate the merits of allowing states to set term limits on their federal representatives through the years, but I have never given serious thought about taking a stand on this issue until now. After all, there are excellent arguments on both sides, and the ones against term limits make a lot of sense on the surface-level.

Imposing a term limit creates an inherent democracy problem because the people of a state may love their Senator and not wish to send them packing just because an arbitrary time limit for public service is reached. Term limits also risk forfeiting a large amount of institutional knowledge that could be put to good use when complex issues require the wisdom and experience of a seasoned representative. It takes some time to gain expertise about any subject or occupation, and it also requires patience to form good relationships with other members of the legislature. Obviously, term limits could potentially interfere with both of these endeavors.
All that said, the arguments tipping the scales to the side of term limits actually reside in the same theoretical areas as some of the arguments against them, namely concerns about democracy, diversity, and inclusion. I mention democracy because the issue of term limits is a fascinating and rare one in that polls show the American people are largely in favor of them, but in a way that defies the usual ideological split one typically sees in issue stances. Republicans, Democrats, minority groups, seniors, and millennials all favor state governments implementing term limits.

Polls also show that while the favorability ratings of Congress are horribly low, the favorability ratings of individual representatives in their own districts are much higher. The fact is we know our representatives and they typically have significant, automatic advantages in name recognition, donations, prestige, and party backing. With all these things going for incumbents, you would think they would be practically unbeatable if they sought reelection…and you would be right. In 2012 for instance, the Washington Post noted that 90% of House members and 91% of Senators that sought reelection won.
Looking at all these numbers, it might be fair to suggest that incumbent advantages may have more to do with a politician remaining in their positions over time than the quality (or lack thereof) of a politician’s public service. Let’s face it: our current system without term limits heavily favors the status quo incumbents. And, not only do the polls clearly reflect the people’s disdain for the job Congress is doing as a whole, Capitol Hill does not yet adequately reflect America’s diversity. There has been improvement, but different religions, minorities…and especially women…are still woefully underrepresented. In short, instituting term limits could not only help more people get a chance to participate in our democracy, it could also speed up the process of inclusion, thereby allowing a more diverse group of citizens that are more reflective of America to serve our country.

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