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Should We Set Term Limits for Congress?

Through his travels and reading, Chris gathers information and writes about historical events and concepts that are often overlooked.

Trump calls for term limits for congress.

Trump calls for term limits for congress.

How Long Can a Senator or Congressperson Serve?

President Elect, Donald Trump has reintroduced the subject of term limits for congress. It's simply a way of telling longtime members of the House and Senate that it's time for them to go home. It’s an old debate that goes back to the ratifying of the constitution in 1787. Some felt that it was only a matter of time before congressional members would secure lifetime tenures by means of bribery. They felt that a regular rotation of new members in and old ones out was necessary for a healthy government.

Since the signing of the constitution on March 4, 1789, there have been 12,178 individuals who have served, or are serving, in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Let’s consider the top 104 individuals in terms of the number of years they were or have been in the U.S. Congress.

Longest-Serving 104 U.S. Congressmen

  • Average number of years in office: 40
  • Median years in office: 39
  • Mode: 36
  • The top ten have served a combined total of 524 years in congress
  • Total years of all 104 in office: 4,152
Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Many Competent People Seek Nominations

Is there a shortage of people who desire to hold the highest offices in the country? It would seem not, if we use the 2016 presidential primaries as an example. The Democratic party fielded six people seeking their party’s nomination. The Republican party mustered twenty-two who filed with the Federal Election Commission.

There does not seem to be a shortage of people who want to serve in these political positions. Yet we routinely send the vast majority away and grant power to the same few, over and over again, by re-electing them to office.

There are many reasons given for not limiting congressional terms, but I want to focus on just one of these reasons. It is said that term limits will leave congress with a lot of inexperienced people holding the reins of power and no one to show them the way things are done in Washington. In other words, senior members become mentors for the freshmen members.

"Mentoring" the Freshmen in Congress

The reference to freshmen and seniors brings to mind my college days. Upperclassmen and faculty had grown used to the routine of college life. They represented the rules, guidelines and traditions of campus living. Then came the dreaded freshmen. They were loud, obnoxious and rebellious. They bucked the system and questioned constantly with the word, why? They also brought new life, new energy and new ideas. But these same rebels became part of the establishment as they entered their junior and senior years. The fire was gone, and a new wave of freshmen came in to shake up the old guard.

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It doesn’t take long for the freshmen in congress to be “mentored” by senior members. I’m an outsider to that world, but it seems that the mentoring process of new congressional members is more like breaking the spirit of a wild horse. They are put in their places, told when and how to vote on items before committees and in full sessions. Priorities are dictated and new ideas are scuttled.

When It's Time to Go Home

My late wife and I lived on a quiet street in a beautiful northern Michigan town with our two sons. That was about twenty-six years ago. We had a friend named Steve who spent a lot of time at our house. He was a great guy and was always welcome to visit. More often than not, Steve would stay later than he, or we, had expected. On those nights, my wife would disappear into the upstairs and return with a blanket and pillow. Steve would sleep on the couch and leave early the next morning. But there were also evenings when my wife and I wanted to be alone. It was simply time for Steve to go home. I would politely tell him so, and he would take it without offense, and leave.

Breaking up the Clandestine Bases of Power

What would happen if there were a whole lot more freshmen congressmen than ever and far fewer seniors to show them the ropes? What if new ideas, new priorities and new ways of doing things were not beaten out of these novices?

I am not an adherent to the conspiracy theory about the Illuminati, but I also am not naive regarding the pressure placed on our elected officials by those outside government. I have no doubt that deals are made and strong relationships are built between powerful individuals inside and outside of government.

What impact would term limits have on these power bases? Could it break them up, weaken them, render them ineffective? If so, then term limits could be a reasonable tool to use as a means of returning the power to the people — to us.

Those who are against term limits speak of a government that is less competent, less cooperative, more corruptible, and prey for self-interested lobbyists. But such descriptions are made by those who want to protect the old way, who want submission, not cooperation. What is more corrupt than established power that beats down and overwhelms challengers? And what of self interested lobbyists? They can be dealt with easily. Outlaw them.

Some of the 42 bronze figures of the signers of the U.S. Constitution, at the National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, PA

Some of the 42 bronze figures of the signers of the U.S. Constitution, at the National Constitution Center, Philadelphia, PA

Government Of, By, and For the People

Government of the people, by the people and for the people would be more likely if and when the centers of clandestine power in Washington were broken up. That day will not come as long as such great power is held by so few over so many decades.

Earlier in this article I mentioned the signing of the Constitution on 4 March 1789. Of those men who signed that historic document, how many were rebels? How many had new, fresh ideas? How many were freshmen? All of them. Let’s get back to our roots and try it again. Through term limits, let’s eliminate the elite and give the power back to the people.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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