Tag: term limits

Term Limits and Popular Government

Rasmussen Reports has a new poll indicating 71 percent of the public want term limits for members of Congress. This finding is nothing new. Strong majorities have supported congressional term limits for the past two decades. What about before that? I decided to take a look at the Gallup polling going back more than six decades. Here’s what I found.

The first polling on the topic in 1947 showed 46 percent supporting limits for the House (48 percent opposed) and 52 percent favoring them for the Senate. Eight years later Gallup found support had fallen to 38 percent for senatorial limits. In 1964-5, from 48 to 50 percent favored term limits for members of both chambers. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw weak results for term limits. In 1969, 43 percent favored House limits; two years later a survey showed support for Senate limits had fallen to 39 percent.

And then everything changed.

Surveys in 1977 and 1981 showed about 60 percent support for limits on the terms of members in both houses. Later in the 1980s, support went up toward 65 percent or so. By 1994, Gallup found its first 70 percent response in favor of congressional term limits. A year later, the number was 67 percent. Thereafter, Gallup apparently did not poll on the topic, perhaps because the Supreme Court took term limits off the political agenda.

Still, in 2003, an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found 67 percent of the public thought term limits were a good idea. A year later a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll found 78 percent supported the idea. Against this background, the Rasmussen poll makes perfect sense.

People sometimes argue that popular changes to the Constitution or the rules of the political game can reflect momentary passions that pass, leaving only unwise policies. This concern is not without merit. However, if the public indicates a strong and growing desire for change over more than three decades, shouldn’t a republican government follow that settled and presumably considered desire? I mean, republican government is government by the people, right?

A Party Thumb On the Primary Scale?

Today Politico Arena asks:

Should national party organizations stay out of primaries?

My response:

Political parties are, strictly speaking, private entities. Therefore, they’re free to insinuate themselves into primary contests, or not. But as they do, so they will be judged.

Haley Barbour was absolutely right, therefore, to say that national party organizations shouldn’t endorse (ordinarily, incumbents) in primaries – much less assist one candidate over others. To the extent they do, they confirm the view of many Americans that the political class is more interested in preserving power – its own – than in governing for the common good under constitutional principle.

Do we need any better evidence than the way Republicans ran from the term limits plank in the Contract with America after they took over Congress in 1995? Oh, I forgot, there is better evidence: the way Democrats never even paid lip service to term limits.

Why Not Try Term Limits?

Bob Bennett has been in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, not quite as long as the 24 years his father spent in the Senate. Arlen Specter has been in the Senate for 30 years. Rep. Alan Mollohan has been in the House since 1982, when he took over the seat his father had held since 1968. Sen. Blanche Lincoln told NPR this morning that she’s been trying to change Washington ever since she got here in 1992.

Do all of these folks really believe there’s no one else in Utah, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or Arkansas capable of serving in Congress? Quite aside from the wars, bailouts, health care takeovers, and earmarks that have angered these officials’ constituents, there’s a good case for rotation in office. Cato analysts have been making the case for term limits for some two decades. The argument doesn’t seem to have gotten any weaker in the interim.

One of America’s Founders, George Mason, made the case for rotation in office:

Nothing is so essential to the preservation of a republican government as a periodical rotation. Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interest of his constituents, as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people, from whence he was taken, where he must participate in their burdens.

It looks like the voters intend to rotate a lot of politicians out of office this year. But why should it take trillions of dollars of debt and millions of dollars of campaign spending to get some new thinking in Congress? Why not make rotation in office the law?

Hail, Bloomberg, Magister Populi

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has been elected to a third term, despite the two-term limits that New Yorkers voted for twice. His biggest challenge was persuading the City Council to overrule the voters, but he managed that trick thanks to his absolute mastery of money and politics in the Big Apple. And on election day, even his $100 million campaign barely overcame popular anger over the repeal of term limits.

Personally, I wish the Council had just given Bloomberg another term. Don’t get rid of term limits. Just do like the Romans used to do in an emergency. Name Bloomberg “dictator,” an extraconstitutional position with extraordinary authority but limited duration. Then you keep the rules, you just make an exception. And I’m sure Bloomberg would be willing to be addressed as Dictator for the duration of the emergency powers.

Instead, Bloomberg used his money and connections to get the Council to allow all the city officeholders to serve three terms, instead of the two that the people had twice voted for.

He said it was because of the financial crisis – just as Rudolph Giuliani had suggested that the city shouldn’t elect a new mayor in the aftermath of 9/11. Of course, as Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute has shown, New York’s revenues rose 41 percent between 2000 and 2007, while spending increased even faster, so it’s not clear why he’s the man you need in a financial crisis.

But the plutocrat mayor used his personal wealth – and the city’s tax dollars – to pressure people to support his bid to stay in office. Last year the New York Times reported:

The mayor and his top aides have asked leaders of organizations that receive his largess to express their support for his third-term bid by testifying during public hearings and by personally appealing to undecided members of the City Council. …

The requests have put the groups in an unusual and uncomfortable position, several employees of the groups said. City Hall has not made any explicit threats, they said, but city officials have extraordinary leverage over the groups’ finances. Many have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mr. Bloomberg’s philanthropic giving and millions of dollars from city contracts overseen by his staff.

Sounds like a lot of overlap between his personal philanthropy and the city’s own spending, and the Times doesn’t seem to find anything odd about that aspect of the story. And then the New York Post found that the mayor’s tax-funded “slush fund” was being enlisted in the campaign, too:

Mayor Bloomberg showered cash on key City Council members with the power to kill a term-limits extension bill in the last year.

Members of the council’s Government Operations Committee have received millions from Hizzoner’s slush fund, a once-secret pot of taxpayer money the mayor doles out to favored lawmakers for their pet causes….

Five members of the committee secured $3.1 million from the $5.3 million stash in Bloomberg’s 2008 budget. Only three other council members received funds from the mayor in the last year.

And the New York Daily News noted that everyone working for Bloomberg at the City Council hearings is on Mayor Mike’s payroll one way or another:

There was the mayor’s legal counsel and the city’s corporation counsel, both paid with tax dollars, testifying that Bloomberg can and should get another term.

There were aides from the mayor’s Community Assistance Unit, who rounded up pro-Bloomberg speakers from the community and religious and civic groups they work with all day long – many of which thrive on city grants.

There were the dozens of “Ready, Willing and Able” guys from the Doe Fund, which gets funding from the city – and used its vans to bring people to the hearing.

That’s why – to return to my Roman theme – union boss Dennis Rivera came to praise Bloomberg, not to bury him, at a recent campaign event. Hail Bloomberg, Magister Populi, Magister Urbi.