I have a good friend. His name is Gene, who describes himself as a conservative redneck. We agree on virtually nothing politically, but I love the guy.
He keeps harping at me about a pet issue of his: term limits. He thinks the world would be a better place politically if we limited the number of terms that members of Congress can serve. He says it works for the presidency, where the person who sits in that office can serve only for two terms. Then he’s out.
My good friend holds a view that is quite popular among rank-and-file voters. They keep insisting on term limits. However, they keep re-electing their members of Congress. In the Panhandle, that usually means re-election for the incumbent congressman, U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, by huge margins every other year. Why is that? Well, the Republican lawmaker must be doing a good enough job to keep his seat.
So, what’s the point of term limits?
As for Thornberry, it’s good to set the record straight about something the congressman never said while running for the office 18 years ago. He never vowed to serve a limited number of terms before stepping aside. Thornberry did pledge to vote for GOP-drafted Contract With America, which called for congressional term limits. And you know what? He’s carried through with that pledge every time the issue has come to a vote. The problem, though, is that members of Congress keep voting it down. Who’s going to approve a law that does away with his or her office?
The larger point, though, is that we have term limits already. Elections can be effective limiters every two years for House members and every six years for U.S. senators. The burden then falls on qualified challengers to emerge to run against incumbents. If the challenger presents a credible alternative to the individual already in office, voters will vote the incumbent out. To wit: Mac Thornberry’s victory in 1994 over Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius.
Term limits by themselves aren’t the answer to good government.