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The Carletonian

The United States legislature should be governed by term limits

<ke a moment to be grateful that there is already a Constitutional amendment in place, the 22nd Amendment, which limits a president’s time in office to two terms. I am glad our country figured out the need for presidential term limits when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and not in our current political climate. I don’t even know if Donald Trump will get elected to a second term (fingers crossed that does not happen), but at least there is a hard stop on his power after another term.

Why, though, does this rule only apply for the president? At all levels of government, there is a harmful little trend called incumbency advantage. Numerous researchers have developed different arguments for its existence. Name recognition plays a significant role, but also the common idea that you would only vote for someone else (not the incumbent) if there was something seriously wrong. In a 2017 study in The Journal of Politics, Justin de Benedictis-Kessner writes, considering data indicating this advantage, “These results extend theories of the incumbency advantage in the United States more generally, showing that not only does personal incumbency carry a large advantage, but it is not reliant on a partisan label.”

Of course, incumbency advantage does not occur across the board in U.S. politics. Just this year, we saw quite a few incumbents unseated in the elections. Mike Capuano, who has been in the House of Representatives for Massachusetts since 1999, lost the primary to Ayanna Pressley, who has not served at the federal level of government before. With the general election occurring less than a week from now, some more unseating may occur from either party. Regardless, non-incumbents face significant challenges in their electoral campaigns, especially when the incumbent has served multiple terms and even if the non-incumbent seems more qualified.

In several cases, a sense of fear arose when an unseating occurred. When Joe Crowley, a mainstream Democrat from New York who has been in the House as long as Capuano, was defeated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an activist with a clear progressive platform, some Democrats freaked out. God forbid some Democrats embrace Democratic Socialism. Before you know it, the U.S. will become like Venezuela (if it wasn’t blatantly obvious I am being sarcastic). Joe Lieberman, a centrist former Senator from Connecticut, was officially a Democrat until 2006. Having been in the Senate since 1989, he lost in his primary re-election bid that year. However, he still won the general by running on the ballot as a third-party Independent candidate. In response to Ocasio-Coretz’s victory, he wrote a snarky opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal attacking her platform and encouraging the district’s voters to still support Crowley. Crowley will remain on the general election ballot under the Working Families Party. Who knows how that will affect him, but I think his initial defeat is a sign that many in this country are fed up with some of these centrist Democrats. That’s my opinion at least.

I think politicians from both major parties are quite guilty of becoming overly confident in their power when they have served several consecutive terms. We as constituents often make the mistake of referring to politicians as “leaders.” They are not leaders. They are representatives, as should be the case in a democracy. They are supposed to represent our interests and not just take the ball and run with it in their personal ambitions.

I know what people are thinking. There are long-term incumbent politicians who continue to advocate for progressive issues in this country. Patrick Leahy, who has served as a senator for Vermont since 1975, is someone who I do not want backing down from U.S. government any time soon. However, perhaps he could leave that particular senate position and run for a new role. There are numerous cases of politicians choosing to leave their positions to run for new ones. Tim Walz, who is running for Minnesota’s governor in this upcoming election, has been congressman for the state’s first district since 2007. I think every valuable politician could benefit from diversifying their potential roles in the government. Walz now has to expand his abilities to serve all of Minnesota, but at the state level. It has given him a new type of momentum.

Now how many terms should there be a limit on? The answer to this question depends on the position. Of course there should be a difference between a senator, who servessix-year terms, compared to members of the House, who serve for two years. My gut thought would be that two terms for senators and six terms for House members, so each a total of 12 years, would be reasonable. 12 years seems like the sweet spot in which there is enough of an impact without this power getting too much in the heads of these politicians.

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