The political energy behind today's term limit movement, led by ACT NOW!
, is predicated on the need for a citizen legislature. Americans rightly believe that career politicians have created a gaping chasm between themselves and their government. For democracy to work, it must be representative democracy. In other words, it must be a government of
, and for
the people; and that means a citizen legislature.
To achieve a citizen legislature it is imperative that our representatives in Congress; particularly those in the House -- which our founding fathers clearly intended to be the arm of government closest to the People -- cannot be too far removed or too insulated from the People. After all, that's precisely who they're elected to represent.
As Rhode Island's Roger Sherman wrote during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, "Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of government, they would acquire the habits of the place, which might differ from those of their constituents."
Back in the early days of our republic, when serving in Congress was viewed as a civic duty, a necessary evil and a part-time job, term limits probably weren't too important. However, in the current era of year-round legislative sessions and full-time salaried representatives, only mandatory term limits will restore real representation.
Otherwise, Congress will continue to be dominated by career politicians who use the many advantages incumbent to their offices to perpetuate their positions of power.
The issue really deals with the question of who seeks to become a member of Congress in the first place. The fact is that America is best served by a Congress composed of members who serve out of a sense of civic duty, but who would rather live their lives in the private sector, holding productive jobs in civil society outside of the world of politics.
Such individuals might be willing to spend two, four, or even six years in Washington, but not if the legislative agenda is being set by others who've gained their authority through congressional careerism, unmerited seniority and unfair election advantages.
A REAL WORLD EXAMPLE OF TERM LIMITS IN ACTION
"We are winning the war against career politicians. They are backing down under fire as they usually do." -- Max Linn
We already have hard evidence that term limits will enhance the democratic process: Proposition 140 in California was passed by the voters there in 1990 and limited the state Assembly to three two-year terms.
The 1992 Assembly elections witnessed a sharp increase in the number of citizens seeking office, with a remarkable twenty-seven freshmen elected in the 80-member lower house of the California legislature, aided by the unplanned retirement of many incumbents shortly after the proposition passed.
In an article on that freshman class, the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Among the things making this group so unusual is that most of them are true outsiders. For the first time in years, the freshman class does not include an abundance of former legislative aides who moved up to become Assembly members. In fact, it is the most representative group ever.
Among the twenty-seven freshman legislators are a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, a former coroner, a paralegal, a retired teacher, a video store owner, a retired sheriff's lieutenant, a businesswoman-homemaker, a children's advocate, an interior designer, and a number of businessmen, lawyers, and former city council members."
In short, these are just the sort of citizen legislators that our nation's founders envisioned for our United States Congress!
A 1996 scholarly study of the California legislature by Mark Petracca of the University of California found that the term limits Californians passed in 1990 have had the following positive consequences:
- Turnover in both legislative chambers has increased markedly
The number of incumbents seeking reelection dropped sharply
The percentage of reelected incumbents dropped markedly
The number of women in both houses increased by thirty percent
The number of uncontested elections declined significantly
The overall number of candidates seeking office in both chambers increased
The winning margin of reelected incumbents had declined precipitously
All of these developments, while perhaps not particularly attractive to those seeking a lifelong career in congressional office, are consistent with the goals of the great majority of Americans who favor a return to a citizen legislature.
In 2008 an Opinion Dynamics Poll of 1000 likely American voters showed that eighty-three percent were in favor of term limits for all elected representatives.
Similarly, term limits for the Unite States Congress will return control of Congress -- not just through voting, but through participation -- to the people. We must make the prospect of serving in Congress a more attractive option for millions more Americans.
THE EFFECTS OF POLITICAL CAREERISTS ON GOVERNMENT
"I have never seen more senators express discontent with their jobs. I think the major cause is that, deep down in our hearts, we have been accomplices to doing something terrible and unforgivable to this wonderful country. Deep down in our hearts, we know that we have bankrupted America and that we have given our children a legacy of bankruptcy. ... We have defrauded our country to get ourselves elected." -- Senator John Danforth
A second major reason for the need for term limit is that it ensures that the majority of those serving in Congress will not be too far removed from their experiences in the private sector and familiarity with the real world issues of their constituents.
They will bring with them the common sense and practical experience of living in the real world that will lead to decisions that are more likely to be in the public interest.
Many Americans rightly believe that it is largely the policies of career legislators who have led our country into its current deplorable condition. This didn't happen over night; many of the following issues have been progressing for decades and are symptomatic of a government that has placed itself beyond the control of the American People.
A voluminous, unfair and incomprehensible income tax code
Unrestricted immigration by millions of illegal aliens
Reckless spending, mind-boggling national debt, and trillion-dollar budget deficits
The housing collapse, mortgage debacle and financial system failure
The failure of the American car companies and our largest manufacturing base
Unaffordable energy supplies imported from countries that despise us
Record unemployment; millions of Americans out of work
The collapse in the value of the dollar
Trillion-dollar government bail outs of private sector businesses
The worst recession since the Great Depression of 1929
Our country is on the brink of disaster and we must do something to regain control of our government and elect some new candidates to begin the process of restoring our country to progress and prosperity.
The policy of government bail-outs is a good example of why the common sense of Americans with deep roots in the private sector is needed in Congress.
It seems likely that a Congress picked solely by lottery might have refused wholesale government bail-outs of private sector businesses and sent the petitioners home to solve their own problems.
"Inexperienced" legislators might have said, in effect, "We'll help where we reasonably can with loan guarantees and such, but we don't see how any company is too big to fail. Why don't you guys file for bankruptcy protection like other failed businesses and go clean up your own mess?"
But our experienced legislators apparently thought they could repeal the laws of economics, and spend our way back to prosperity through deficit spending, trillion-dollar bail outs, printing money like there's no tomorrow, and borrowing heavily from foreign "friends" like China. To be sure, all Americans will be paying a heavy price for such legislative hubris for generations to come.
A third reason term limits are necessary is related to the second; and that is, the longer one remains in Congress, the more one is exposed to -- and influenced by -- the "culture of ruling" and the "culture of corruption" that permeates life inside the stratified confines of the Beltway.
Groups like the National Taxpayers Union have documented the fact that the longer people serve in Congress, the bigger spenders and regulators they become; and the more likely they are to serve wealthy special interest groups, and the Washington power brokers, that really decide who gets elected to Congress these days.
That is just as true of conservatives as it is of liberals. It is also understandable, because it involves human nature. Members of Congress are surrounded at work and in their social lives by people whose jobs are to spend other people's money and regulate every facet of daily life.
It is the unusual individual -- although such people do exist -- who is not subtly but surely infected by these anti-representative, anti-citizen's rights cultures. The culture of corruption that has evolved over the past century in Congress is perpetuated by career politicians who haven't lived a day in the real world for decades.
INCREASED COMPETITION AND BETTER REPRESENTATION
Each candidate behaved well in the hope of being judged worthy of election. However, this system was disastrous when the government had become corrupt. For then it was not the most virtuous but the most powerful who stood for election, and the weak, even if virtuous, were too frightened to run for office. -- Machiavelli
A fourth reason to support congressional terms limits, is that they are an antidote to the growing "professionalization" of the legislative process.
As Mark Petracca of the University of California Irvine wrote, "Whereas representative government aspires to maintain a proximity of sympathy and interests between the representative and the represented; professionalism creates authority, autonomy, and hierarchy, distancing the expert from the client.
Though this distance may be necessary and functional for lawyers, physicians, nurses, accountants, and social scientists, the qualities and characteristics associated with being a 'professional' legislator run counter to the supposed goals of a representative democracy. Professionalism encourages an independence of ambition, judgment, and behavior that is squarely at odds with the inherently dependent nature of representative government."
Finally, term limits for Congress are guaranteed to enhance the competitiveness of elections and, as noted above, increase the number and diversity of Americans choosing to run for Congress.
As Paul Jacob of U.S. Term Limits has pointed out, "The most competitive races (and the ones that bring out the largest number of primary candidates) are for open seats. At least a third of all House seats will be open each election under term limits, and it is probable that as many as half will not feature an incumbent seeking reelection. We also know from past experience that women and minorities have greater electoral success in races for open seats."
In order for the concept of a citizen legislature to have meaning, it is imperative that those serving in the legislature literally view their time in office as a leave of absence from their real jobs or careers. That is the key to a successful citizen legislature.
The incentives facing a member of Congress should never include concern about what more senior legislators might do in retaliation, what special interests might do to the member's political career, or how they will remain in office long enough to collect on their full government pension.
In The Politics and Law of Term Limits, coauthors Ed Crane and Roger Pilon wrote, "Stepping back from these policy arguments, however, one sees a deeper issue in the term limits debate, an issue that takes us to our very foundations as a nation. No one can doubt that America was dedicated to the proposition that each of us is and ought to be free--free to plan, and live his own life, as a private individual, under a government instituted to secure that freedom.
Thus, implicit in our founding vision, is the idea that most human affairs take place in what today we call the private sector. That sector -- and this is the crucial point -- is primary: government comes from it, not the other way around. We send men and women to Congress to 'represent' us; therefore, we want them to understand that they must truly represent us; the American people who live our daily lives in that private sector. Moreover, we want them to remember that it is to that private world that they must return, to live under the laws they have made as our representatives.
That, in essence, is the message implicit in the growing call for term limits. It is not simply or even primarily a message about 'good government'. Rather, it is a message about the very place of government in the larger scheme of things. Government is meant to be our servant, to assist us by securing our liberty as we live our essentially private lives. It is not meant to be our master in some grand public adventure."
"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." -- Daniel Webster
OUR POSITION ON TERM LIMITS
Our term limits movement is not motivated by disdain for the institution of Congress -- although public opinion of Congress is at the lowest point in history -- in fact, quite the contrary. It is motivated by a sincere desire of the American people to regain control of the most representative part of the federal government; the U.S. Congress. We demand congressional term limits now, and for good reasons.
Resistance to this movement on the part of careerist legislators only underscores our image of an Imperial Congress too far removed, and too insulated, from the very people that elected them to represent their interests.
Congress should, and really must, secure for itself an honorable and venerated place in American history by voluntarily passing a new constitutional amendment that defines congressional term limits, and thereby return honest representation in our government to the People.
Since we believe it's highly unlikely that Congress will voluntarily move to limit their own powers and political career ambitions; we, the American people, must compel them to act in accordance with our demands; demands that we believe are entirely justified and reasonable.
ACT NOW! advocates a constitutional amendment limiting Representatives to three consecutive two-year terms; Senators to two consecutive six-year terms, and a total of eighteen years combined consecutive service in both houses of Congress.
This policy allows Representatives who have served their three terms to aspire to Senate office, subject to the two term rule, and all congressmen to seek other elective office in government positions outside of Congress.
Not to deny the people their right to reelect candidates that they believe truly represented their interests, our amendment proposal also allows former representatives to run for Congress again.
Once they have returned to private life for a period of years to live in the real world with their constituents, and regain real world perspectives on the issues of the day, they would be free to run for election again.
We simply want to see the restoration of a citizen legislature; the end of the corrupt careerist politicians domination of Congress; and the return of more representative government to Washington. We will leave playing politics to others.
"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." -- John F. Kennedy
We must unite as American patriots and work as one to reform Congress and restore accountability to the People again.
Together we can and will redeem the confidence and respect that our democratic government rightly deserves!
Remember, one person like you can make a real difference and help determine the future course of human events. Each and every one of us holds this incredible power in our hands!
Please support our efforts with your generous contribution of $10, $25, $50 or more, and please be sure to sign our petition for congressional reform, then either mail or email copies of this petition to your state and federal legislators!
Calling All American Patriots to Action!
The culture of corruption perpetuated by career politicians must end!
It won't be done if left up to Congress. They have too much to lose!
Only the people can win this fight, but only if we rally together!
We must get Congress to pass term limits for our own good!
It can only be achieved by constitutional amendment!
Stand up, America and let's get this job done!
We wish there was an easier way!
Unfortunately, there isn't!
Power to the People!
We are calling for the active participation, support, and open debate by
all patriotic Americans who believe our government must remain...
...of the People, by the People and for the People
Join - ACT NOW! - Today
Americans for Congressional Term limits NOW!