Fritz Pettyjohn: Time for term limits in Congress

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By FRITZ PETTYJOHN

There are three things that large majorities of Alaskans, and Americans, right, left and center, can agree on. One is the need to stop the reckless deficit spending, and the ballooning national debt, which are causing inflation. Another is the need to impose term limits on members of Congress. The third is reform of a campaign finance system which currently corrupts Congress and gives incumbents an enormous advantage as they seek reelection.

None of these reforms will ever get through Congress. All will require the use of Article V to amend the Constitution. Short of revolution, it’s the only way any of them can happen.

First up will be fiscal reform. The need is urgent, and there may already be enough valid Article V resolutions on this subject to force Congress to call the first Article V Convention of States.

When that Convention takes place, legislative leaders from all 50 states, Republican and Democrat, will be charged with crafting a solution which is satisfactory to a large supermajority of the country. Friendships will naturally form, relationships will be established.  When they have finished their business, it will only be natural for them to ask themselves,, “Is there anything else we can agree on?”

Term limits for Congress is a no brainer. Large, bipartisan majorities of voters want it, and opening up Congress to new blood will give some of these state legislators an opportunity to advance their own careers. Delegates to the Convention will be the leaders of their respective state legislatures and can agree among themselves that they will go home and pass the needed Article V resolutions for a 2nd Convention of States, to propose a term limits amendment.

Once that’s done, campaign finance reform should be the next item on the Article V agenda. Among the delegates to the 1787 Convention there was great distrust of the state legislatures, where hostility to a new federal Constitution was rampant. Madison, in particular, didn’t want to give these legislatures control over congressional elections. He feared that they would use that power to somehow hamstring the new Congress. So, in Article I, Sec. 4, he inserted a provision giving Congress the power to regulate the “Times, Places, and Manner” of its own elections.

This may have made sense at the time, but in modern practice it has turned out to be a serious problem. Congress has constructed campaign finance laws so that challengers to incumbent Congressmen are at a huge disadvantage. The easy and practical way to solve this problem is to amend Article I, Section 4 to give each state the authority to control its own campaign finance law. The state legislatures would control congressional campaign finance and can impose a new campaign finance regime which would result in a more level playing field and reduce endemic corruption. Each state will have its own law. Citizen initiatives could be used to institute campaign finance restrictions which legislatures refuse to pass.

Thus, the laws of Alaska will be quite different from the laws of New York, which is fine. It’s called federalism, and it works. Delegates to a 3rd Convention of States, dealing with campaign finance, would be empowering themselves, at the expense of Congress. From their perspective, what’s not to like?

At this point such talk is mere speculation.  But what is beyond doubt is that the first use of Article V in almost 240 years will begin a process of reviving federalism, a bedrock constitutional principle which has eroded over time, as the federal government has amassed more and more power, at the expense of the states.  It would be a concrete demonstration of the fact that, ultimately, the states, acting collectively, can control the federal government.

When state legislators pass Article V resolutions, they are attempting to return political power to their states, and themselves, at the expense of Congress and the federal government. Returning power to the states, and the people, from a bloated and dysfunctional federal government is good policy, and good politics.

It’s an idea whose time has come.  If and when it happens, it would be historic, a watershed.

In 1988 Rep. Fritz Pettyjohn introduced HJR 54, an Article V resolution calling for the limitation of congressional terms.  He blogs at ReaganProject.com.

21 COMMENTS

  1. It is necessary for the continuation of the Republic such that everyone is treated equal and money is not the driving factor of each election.

  2. Fundamentally, term limits remove a choice made by the majority of voters in a particular locale. Term limits are great when they remove a person who is cross way with your belief (s). Not so good when term limits remove a person you support. What is forgotten is that we already have a term limits mechanism – it is called elections.

    • Your term limit mechanism is broken. It needs to be put into law and Senators ans Congress people need to be put in the same position as POTUS, 2 terms that’s it. None of them are honestly representing their constituents.

    • While I do not disagree, there is an equally compelling argument for term limits.
      First of all, when an incumbent is running for re-election, does their party automatically support them? Yes, and that limits the choice of the voters just as much.
      Next, as soon as a politician is elected, they become a card carrying member of the re-election party. And, about half of their term is spent campaigning, not actually working.
      Finally, elections sound all well and good, but RCV and whatever that other ranking method is named (STAR?) is ruining the elections. Mail in voting, etc… are destroying it as well.

    • Donald we already have term limits in our constitution. Presidents can serve 2 terms per the 22nd Amendment Section 1 ratified in 1951.
      Politics is big business and for many a lifetime profession. Some politicians feel entitled to their seat, like some royalty of old. Setting a term limit will refresh the pool and get rid of some of the entrenchment, that happens with many who are in DC for a long time. Fresh faces can mean fresh approaches, new ideas. The vast majority of politicians spend considerable time on fundraising, as long as dark money and large donors have the ability to keep the status quo, nothing will change. With a set limit of terms all that is limited and time can actually be spend on advocating for people instead of chasing the dollar and voting to please “Big this or that”

  3. One more point.
    If elections were free and fair, I would agree 100% with you that term limits are unnecessary.
    However, they are not.
    I need look no further than the money being dumped into local elections in order to influence the outcome of an election. The 907 Initiative has no purpose other than destroying the reputation of conservatives. The latest Mayoral election in Anchorage was absolutely altered by outside money. Zuck bucks, etc… all exist to alter election outcomes. Therefore, not free, not fair.

  4. Term limits and the ability for the People to start the process of terminating a congressman or congresswoman’s term when the congressman or congresswoman are proven to not be working for the People for whom they represent!

  5. “What is forgotten is that we already have a term limits mechanism – it is called elections.” <<<< This. Period. If the majority of Alaskans do indeed believe that any particular Representative or Senator should serve no more than 2/3/XXX terms, they can vote him or her out on a 2-4 year cycle.

  6. Besides being unconstitutional (so are Presidential limits), there is a better way.

    Once again, the GOP seeks to pass laws to help cover their own fecklessness.

    Have the GOP actually vet and run better candidates. Then have GOP actually bother to vote.

  7. Term limits “will give some of these state legislators an opportunity to advance their own careers”. Think Forrest Dunbar.

  8. Bull —- Don. Term limits are absolutely essential. Apparently our founders thought enough of it to limit the presidency to 2 terms. People with integrity and love of our country need to be elected to these positions. Get in do your part for America then get out in 2 terms max. If you stay longer you get entrenched and indebted to people.

  9. Keep electing the same people and they soon run things for themselves. The Alaska legislature is a prime example. PFD matters are not settled because the legislature has taken ownership and refuses to let the people decide anything. Other constitutional amendment proposals were also not allowed to proceed because the legislators did not want them. Term limits make more sense here.

    • Yes they do!!! How long have you been promised and have been waiting for a full pfd? 20 years? More? Mike still owes me money and was elected partially on an unfulfilled or downright false promise to deliver one. In the situation that rank choice can’t fix the problem, term limits are a back up for failed promises.

  10. Term limits won’t do anything or solve the real problem which is the staffers and lobbyists who really run things.

  11. Most of our problems with government would be resolved a term limit of one single term for every office in the land, president down to dog-catcher. This problem has existed since the day the constitution was adopted and our founding fathers–who failed to include the limits therein. They lacked vision on this particular omitted feature.

  12. Terms limits or age? Term limits don’t bother me as much as not capping the age of elected officials. It takes awhile for someone in office to become effective, get a handle on the bureaucracy. But when the elected get too old, the staffers start running the seat in office and they become powerbrokers of their own personal interests.

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