Term Limits: It’s a Band Aid

There’s going to be a voting theme today and I believe there will also be an unplanned dueling between posts. 

So ethics reform is obviously a big deal this session, but so far the Gold Dome has dropped the ball. We’ve seen the Senate pass it’s rule (read: porous as a sponge guideline) and we’ve seen Speaker Ralston introduce his two counter pieces of legislation calling the Senate weak but also invoking the wrath of the Tea Party right. Yet, both of these proposals barely scratch the surface of a bigger problem. Attacking the problem from a different angle is HR 5.

The Cliff Notes version of this resolution is to allow a vote for a constitutional amendment  that would restrict State House and Senate members to four consecutive terms. Once those four terms have been served, they would then be required to sit one term out. If this sounds familiar, the governorship is similarly structured. But this doesn’t address what’s really wrong with our electoral process: the polarization and lack of trust caused by partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts.

I often compare term limits to a band aid on a shotgun wound. Yes it would stop a little bleeding by forcing an incumbent to step out of the ring every 8 years. And it would also encourage some electoral competition  by leaving a vacuum that would need to be filled since the incumbent would be unable to run, thus making it more difficult for an incumbent to stay in power.  Creating districts that matched the views, beliefs and philosophies of the population of a district rather than their partisan voting habits would increase the chances of electing pragmatic moderates from those districts.

The creation of “safe” districts for either party only helps to encourage deadlock by allowing the majority party to be pushed further out of the mainstream and lose seats to fringe elements (Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Jose Serrano, Charles Rangel) or encourages loss to the opposing party (think a Christine O’Donnell style House race).

As Republicans I like to think we really believe in free-market principles wherever we find them. The free market and the power of the invisible hand guides the market to optimum efficiency. Why, then, do we not take the same approach to politics? To continue on the economic analogy, gerrymandering is the equivalent of a subsidy. The marketplace is no longer free or fair because there are now outside influences distorting preferences. Why should we be satisfied with a system that permits single-party control for several election cycles when the philosophies, interests and needs of the people who elect legislators to represent them shift over time?

Voters, who are supposed to steer the vehicle that is government. may want to change course several times over 10 years -but creating safe, partisan districts doesn’t allow for shifts in direction, only gears.  We can easily look to Georgia and see how much things have changed over the last 10 or 20 years. But, each time the lines were changed we can all remember the fights that erupted.

Recently in 2011, Iowa took their redistricting process and inserted a non partisan agency between the maps and the state legislature. The agency draws the map and the legislature doesn’t get to amend, just vote yes or no. This was done to bring the government to be more responsive to the citizen’s needs and to make it that much more difficult to gerrymander a district.

Instead of being drawn to serve the party in power, these districts better serve the citizens of Iowa. For example districts like GA-6 or GA-11, only make sense if you are trying to ensure they will always be a conservative Republican district. This limits the conversation that is able to be had about different issues, and will only encourage members of those types of districts to be standoffish towards different ideas that may actually be more efficient and effective for any given problem.

Districts that make sense would, in theory at least, make it easier for voters to understand who represented them in Congress and why. People in these contiguous, compact communities of interest would be more aware of issues that concern themselves and their neighbors, which would likely lead to a greater participation levels in elections. Some say this would increase the pool of possible Republican voters, but a better outcome would mean that the candidate with the ideas and beliefs best suited to a district would win the election. As it happens now, the candidate who appeals to the narrowest segment of the general population (i.e., primary voters) has the biggest advantage.

This could be used as a model for each state to bring the purpose of government back to serving the people. The possibility of career politicians still exists (assuming no term limits) but they will have to be more sensitive to the desires of their districts. Thus improving the function of our representative democracy. If Iowa can do it, why can’t we?

Maps and such can be found here.

I’m sure many of you have an opinion, what are your thoughts?


  1. xdog says:

    That’s all very neat for a state like Iowa with a pretty homogeneous population and a bipartisan cast to their politics, but it’s had to see how a nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency has meaning in Georgia now or ever and how its choices could satisfy anyone.

  2. SallyForth says:

    ‘Sorry, Eric – looks like the P/P community got caught up on the other thread about Section V today and not many are over here. But I share your concerns that racial gerrymandering has torn apart communities of over-arching interest, regardless of race, color or creed.

    Starting with the 1970 census, the DOJ forced Georgia to chop up districts based on only one criterion: race. We have now passed our fifth redistricting process, and Black voters (now aka Democrats) are herded predominantly into 3 congressional districts out of Georgia’s total of 14. The Black king-makers in Georgia wrong-headedly threw in with the DC Republicans years ago and carved up districts that relegate themselves to a permanent minority of our Congressional delegation – and allowed Republicans to take over the rest of the state. (A look at the State Legislature shows a similar picture.) White Democrats of the 60’s and 70’s who reached out and helped give all Blacks a voice in Georgia politics were shown no appreciation and signed their own death warrant as a statewide political party.

    The gridlock we now see in Washington is a direct result of the gerrymandering under Section V for the last half a century. Democratic congressmen have gone to the extreme left in order to be re-elected (with the exception of the lone, last white Southern Democrat), and Republican congressmen have gone to the extreme right for the same reason. There is no middle ground, no moderates in either party. Unless the SCOTUS strikes down Section V as un-Constitutional and allows today’s America to have geographically sane districts of community interest that work toward common ground, the extremes of each party will continue to rule indefinitely.

  3. Joshua Morris says:

    We need to get away from gimmicks. They are all through our tax policy, and they don’t need to be inserted into voting opportunities for legislative seats. Term limits for the legislative branch serve only to limit the voice of the People. We should have the right to vote for whom we wish (which lends itself to a ballot access discussion for possibly another day). I believe management level bureaucratic positions should be term limited to 10 years or less. The folks in these positions have far more know-how on wasting state funds than our legislators, and they can get away with it. Many stay in government positions for multiple decades and become so entrenched that they know how to get what they want from legislators, especially the ones who are new to the game.

    Regarding redistricting, I’m all for a system like Iowa has. My only question is: how do we ensure that those in the Legislative Services Agency do not become the powerful and begin to assert their biases? Although it has been the standard seemingly forever, I never have seen the logic in allowing the elected to draw their own districts. I agree that Section V should go. It stifles democracy in the only part of our government that is designed to be democratic.

  4. saltycracker says:

    If the position is to use good districting or fear of bureaucrats to offset a call for term limits, it is a hollow one as there is no intent to abate either.

    As for term limits, the party goal is seniority which is what got us to where we are, gerrymandered districts, entrenched, highly paid/over retired bureaucrats, quid pro quo laws.

    • saltycracker says:

      To be clear:

      Redistricting: Unlikely we would do the right thing, take out the personal factors and district by neighborhood/zip code/city/county/trade area/state……..

      Bureaucrats: Good legislators make good work rules

      Term Limits: It’s our only hope

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