Senate of the United States Congress, three members have had a combined tenure of nearly a century: Senator Strom Thurmond from South Carolina, Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia, and representing Massachusetts- Senator Edward Kennedy.
The former two have, in the past, had direct ties to white supremacist movements in the United States. Senator Kennedy, in the court of public opinion, has been held responsible in the death of a young woman in the Chappaquidick incident. One cannot imagine Senator Thurmond, approaching100 years in age, making a worthwhile contribution to the legislature of this country. Mr. Byrd otherwise known as the Senator of Pork acquires public funds for pet projects that keeps him in the public eye and ensures reelection. Numerous monuments, buildings and stretches of highway have been named for Senator Byrd. Senator Kennedy's drunken debaucheries and womanizing are legend.
If, hypothetically, term limits were established in the U.S. Senate, perhaps, more talented and worthy men would be in the Senate.
If you, as the reader, ask at this point, "Where is the reference to California? Isn't this introduction larger long." It isn't. It supports the thesis of this essay. Term limits good. No Term Limits -- not so good. These examples illustrate how not having term limits can be a disservice to the nation.
Career politicians also live on the public dole. One never sees them however, performing real acts of public service. Former President Clinton, though incredibly talented, has not, in his entire life, purchased a home or been through any of the turmoil (except the ones he created for himself) that most citizens go through. Even if one looks at the presidency of Bill Clinton from a bi-partisan standpoint, one shudders to imagine the nature of discussions that his indefinite presidency would evoke -- mostly fodder for late night comedians and intense partisanship.
Term limits on the U.S. presidency have created a vibrant country where polar opposite ideologies, differing experiences and personalities have been brought into play towards national and international policy -- notwithstanding the results.
In 1990, California voted on Proposition "Prop" 140. The people proposed to impose term limits on the members of the State Senate and the Assembly. This proposition eventually became law in 1997. Thus, assembly members can be elected for three terms of two years each and senators -- two terms of four years each.
With respect to the 49 other states in the Union (and we know from the recent presidential election debacle in Florida that every state counts), California has become the flagship state of this country. Soon after the U.S.A. was born as a nation, 90% of the population lived within 100 miles around capital. The I-95 belt from Boston to Washington DC or the East Coast, defined the nation.
Perhaps it was the lure of the Mediterranean climate, the picturesque setting that made people move to California and stay there. Today "CAL DRMN" (California Dreaming) as many license plates proclaim is here to stay. That California boasts of the largest slice of the electoral-college pie is testament to its stature. California, as an independent unit, is the seventh largest economy in the world today. It is a pretty good bet that whatever happens in California will be a determinant to the rest of the country.
And, finally, we come to term limits.
This essay is topical because on March 5, 2000, Californians will have to vote on Proposition 45. This proposition supported by a majority of the Democratic Party and some moderate Republicans seeks to, if not revoke entirely, perform and end-run around the term limit laws. The proposition states that an incumbent, about to leave office when his term expires, can get a small percentage (20%) of the voters to sign a petition. If he gets the requisite signatures, he can seek reelection for another term.
Supporters of the Prop45 spout a very dramatic refrain: "Throw the scoundrels out." If an elected official were truly worthy of the office, he should be able to stay and serve the people. In the first place, this proposition was funded by, besides the political parties, the special interests -- the energy companies, the gambling interests, the tobacco and liquor industries. As Paul Jacob reports, "only four ordinary citizens contributed money in support of this effort."
The question then begs itself: Why is this so important to the politicians and the special interest groups? Simply, because the smooth flow of legislation in the best interests of lobbies can only work if a "bought and paid for" politician is well ensconced in State Congress. We already know about the hoopla over the political contributions in the Enron Scandal. Special interests have to, as best as we can, be kept out of legislation.
If the financial contributors to Prop45 can get enough signatures to put it on the ballot, then certainly incumbent, careerists politicians with the powers of fundraising can generate and fund a vehicle to gather enough signatures on a petitions to seek reelection. Therefore most of the scoundrels would slip through the crack and get in.
In 1990, the politicians and special interests generated more than six million dollars to defeat Prop140. But the Californian voters overwhelmingly voted for term limits anyway.
Current polls indicate that support for the proposition is 3 out of 10 voters and falling. That is the good news. Career politicians are also desperate for this measure because most of their terms end in 2004. This is their only chance to ensure that they can remain in "public service." The salaries and perks that State Congressmen get are immeasurable. Naturally, who would want to give up such a cushy lifestyle? Some political commentators have called this scam: SCAM (Sacramento CAreerists Mentality).
One of the strong arguments (in a seemingly bottomless arsenal) that proponents of Prop45 bring to the table is that a distinguished and experience politician who would serve his constituency well would have to leave Congress. That may be true. But the continual working of a democracy needs fresh ideas, enthusiasm and overall accountability from a politician. So if someone loves public service so much and can be a real do-gooder, join a think-tank or a non-profit public interest group.
The most important reason term limits are necessary for the state of California is that its Congress should be a true representation of the state. The state retains its Hispanic heritage in almost every walk of life (name an important city which does not have a Latino-origin name). Prior to 1990, Latinos and women represented in the Congress were miniscule. There was not Latino women representative in either house. In the last decade, since term-limits, almost a fourth of the representatives are Latino, Women and Asian-American.
We can say now that the state is truly represented.
24 states in the country have term limits. The palpitations emanate only from the politicians faced with the prospect of looking for a real job in the private sector, in this they are well supported by the special interest groups.
Politicians often trot out the public service mantra, but the voters are the true gauge of how much public service they really get. In the last decade, according to Patrick Basham from the Cato Institute, term-limits were established in state congresses with 68% votes and 700 legislative seats were affected in 2000.
Many political scientist and academics have stood in support of term limits and aver that most of the aims of "term limits" have been met. Stanley Moore, a Pepperdine University Political Scientist says that "term limits lead to a constant turn around of inexperienced, incompetent law makers who have to lean on longtime staff members and lobbyists to guide them."
Basham effectively summarizes the advantages of term limits. His finds are based on opinion garnered over the time term limits have been in effect in various states in various circumstances.
Terms limits have been popular with electorates since their inception. The spanner in the works in California is not due to voter-unrest from term-limits. It is the brainchild of politicians desperate to hold on to their power, and the special interests.
The open and easier availability of seats gives rise to potential candidates who want to make a difference a chance to get in on the political action. In the last fifty years, in South Carolina, there probably has not been a single republican, no matter how qualified, who even remotely considered the possibility of running against the incumbent Thurmond.
As demonstrated earlier, term limits allow true representation of the state. The welfare of recent immigrants can only be addressed if they have a representative in congress. This helps immigrants who make worthy contributions to bridge the cultural divide between the United States and the native countries.
In the U.S. Senate, one often thinks of senior and junior senators, or freshmen congressmen. These representatives often have to toe the line and wait their turn based on seniority (or the lack thereof). With term limits, there…