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Should States Impose Automatic Term Limits?

An editorial in today's New York Times bashes automatic term limits on political office. The predicament of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg demonstrates the discord — voters approve of the job he's doing, but would vote for term limits again if given the choice.

So why do voters favor limits that make them give up effective government leaders? The editorial explains that promises of ending gridlock and purging the system of self-serving incumbents attract voters' support.

But there is a down side to this automatic house cleaning. Term limits quickly turn leaders into lame ducks, removing their electoral accountability. Also, voters lose their choice to elect provenly capable politicians. In some ways, it distrusts citizens to make a decision in their best interest, assuming that they would not be able to identify a selfish and special-interest-entrenched politician. The question becomes whether this distrust is justified.

What do you think? Do term limits help democracy?


Join The Conversation
Bisque Bisque 9 years
I do wonder what the term limits are in the US, is it a consecutive term limit or a lifetime term limit? I have tried reading the wikipedia article on it, but feel dumb and dumbfounded on what it means. While I do understand that the "no person shall be elected the the office of the president twice" I'm curious to as what applies for other positions? I'm sure U.S. Politics is far different from my country's, but here, a couple(or maybe a lot) of the Politicians make their wives or sons run in the office they've previously held so that they could circumvent the consecutive term limit and be able to run again in the next election.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
Sorry about the double comment above, I was on my Sidekick waiting to pick up a kid from school. City Girl, it's great to hear a voice with a more closely-informed point of view. I wouldn't characterize our current legislature as "successful", however. And I'm sure all of them, not just the new folks, spend a fair amount of time serving their own careers and personal interests. IMO the current fiscal situation, which did not happen overnight, is just further proof that we *need* some upheaval.
The-City-Girl The-City-Girl 9 years
I'm actually totally opposed to term limits. I think it's been a completely failed experiment, at least in the California Legislation. Yes, I'm biased because the failure of a recent bill that would have ended CA term limits means I will lose my job in November when my boss (the prez pro tem of the CA senate) is termed out--ugh--but it's more than that. . . I have seen firsthand how essential experience, networking, and contacts are in making an effective legislative body. To arbitarily kick an entire established, and successful senate and assembly is ludicrous. Rather than put through policy or addressing important state matters, these freshmen senators busy themselves with networking, learning the ropes, meeting with lobbyists, and getting their feet onto the ladder of ambition. In short, they serve their own careers before they can get to their constituents. All this takes place while the original Legislative body had been functioning fine. It's just an incredible disruption to the process. And now with California's $17 billion deficit, the total upheaval of authority and vision could be catastrophic. Each day wasted on renegotiating down the line could equal millions of more dollars. And as other have pointed out, we do have a way to get rid of ineffective and/or disliked politicians: frequent elections. And the argument that it doesn't work because incumbents will "always" prevail was recently proven incorrect here in California: my Senator Carol Migden, a long-term incumbent, was just voted out and replaced by someone new!!!
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 9 years
Elections are only useful to clean house if there is a good alternative. California is so gerrymandered that no one would ever leave Sacramento, even if corruption charges were filed. Fabian Nunez, anyone? A long tenure just gives incumbents more time to hide the evidence. As it is, the criminals just circulate among different positions. The loss of good representatives is an unfortunate but worthwhile cost of clearing out the bad ones.
MarinerMandy MarinerMandy 9 years
Citizen, that's exactly what I was going to write when I read this! Yes, incumbents have an advantage. Even among smart voters, we know what they are about whereas we know nothing about a new candidate. I have to admit I'm greatfull that we don't even have to worry about Bush being reelected (although I think he would have a tough time). We have such a fast turnover of leadership that we will never being able to make changes that take a long time to accomplish. Potentially, every 4 years we could have a completely different foreign policy. This seems to result in smaller countries being yanked all over the place (look at your back and forth between India and Pakistan over the last 60 years as an example) and countries that we could be allies with or help who have no idea what to expect from us. The same can be said about domestic policies and mayoral term limits as well.
CitizenSugar CitizenSugar 9 years
Hear, hear hypnoticmix. I've always kind of said we do have term limits--they're called elections.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Term limits in my opinion simply enable an already complacent uninterested constituency to be even more of the same by doing our jobs for us. People simply need to get up off their @$$&$ get to the voting booth and if you don't like some one vote them out. If you we're too lazy and indifferent to get there than hey don't complain.
onabanana onabanana 9 years
Plus voters get lazy.
onabanana onabanana 9 years
All I have to say is George W. Bush...Thank goodness for term limits. Democracy is about choice and protection of that choice, and though on the surface term limit seem to limit choice, IMO, term limits act as one barrier to despotic government and help better ensure that fresh faces and new ideas can be heard. Seats of government were never really meant to be a life long careers (At least congress.) These people were supposed to have other careers and government work was supposed to be part of their public service.
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