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Term limits steal choice from voters

By Scott Tibbs, October 29, 2008

The New York City Council voted 29-22 to extend term limits to three terms, allowing current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to seek a third term next year.

I am not a fan of term limits. In general, I believe the voters should have the right to elect someone as many times as they wish. I may disagree with some of those choices (such as the choice of Massachusetts voters to send Ted Kennedy to the U.S. Senate for multiple terms) but I do not believe that choice should be restricted. I believe representative democracy works best when we trust the voters.

Would it have been better had Senator Kennedy been restricted to two terms? Not necessarily. The voters in his state would have elected someone similar to him. After all, they sent John F. Kerry to join him in the Senate.

There is one major exception where I would support term limits: the President of the United States. The President has so much power, and the position has increased in power so much even over the last 20 years, that there is too much potential for abuse of power should the President be allowed more than two terms. With the exception of Franklin Roosevelt, no President has served more than two terms, and that has served us well. In addition, we have more than enough qualified people who can serve as President.

The House Republicans implemented a good policy after they took over in 1994 - term limits on committee chairmanships. Those chairmanships allow members of Congress to gain significantly levels of power and influence, and unlimited terms there can actually contribute to corruption. By limiting terms of committee chairs, Congress can prevent too much power from falling into too few hands, while not restricting the right of the voters to choose who they want to represent them.

I think gerrymandering is a far worse problem than multiple terms. Having more balanced districts would force members of Congress to be more accountable to their voters. Balanced districts will not necessarily prevent principled conservatives or liberals from holding power, either. After all, John Hostettler (one of the most conservative members of Congress during his time in Washington) won in the evenly-divided "Bloody Eighth" district a half-dozen times from 1994-2004.

The biggest problem with term limits is that a term limit law, packaged as a way to limit government power, actually assumes government knows best. After all, we can't allow the people to freely choose who will represent them for as many terms as they wish. We have to make that choice illegal. That is not a conservative or libertarian position.