The Gazette Telegraph, Colorado Springs Colorado October 26, 1998

Term limits – a voluntary approach?

Yes: Voters already said they want it

By Dennis Polhill

When asked, the majority of congressmen and senators in Washington will profess their strong support of term limits. In fact, ironically, many of these same politicians campaign on their support of term limits and a citizen legislature election after election after election — on their way to a very long career in Washington.

Year after year, the careerist Congress has shown that it will not impose term limits on its members. Of course, they promise to vote for term limits, but often self-interest — not to mention the nice office and six-figure salary — are just too much to walk away from.

So instead, every year Congress institutes a series of procedural maneuvers to guarantee members the opportunity to get on the record supporting some type of term limits, while all along ensuring that term limits will never pass Congress.

In response to this refusal of Congress to pass a term limits law, the Colorado Term Limits Coalition has placed on the ballot an initiative (Amendment 18) that serves as an important step to taking our Congress back from career politicians.

This initiative, known as the Voluntary Congressional Term Limits Declaration Act, will allow candidates for Congress to take a declaration limiting their own term in office. When the law is passed, every candidate for Congress will be offered a declaration stating they will serve no more than three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives or two terms in the Senate. This will be strictly voluntary.

If a candidate does not wish to sign, there will be no requirement to do so. This information, at the candidate’s request, will then be placed on the ballot to inform voters of that candidate’s personal position and actual intentions on term limits. When Amendment 18 passes, voters will be able to distinguish between those candidates who intend to limit their own terms and serve as citizen legislators and those who do not.

Amendment 18 is needed because many voters believe candidates cannot be trusted to honor their promises on term limits once they go to Washington. Unfortunately this public distrust has proven to be painfully true. Here in Colorado, a congressman who initially promised to only serve four terms has now indicated publicly that he might break that promise. This despite polls that consistently show voters prefer candidates who agree to self-limit their tenure in Washington by an overwhelming margin of 7 to 1.

Furthermore, many Americans, from all political spectrums, feel they are not represented in Congress. They are tired of politicians who say one thing to the voters and do something entirely different once in Washington. They are tired of having representatives who are more receptive to special interests bearing donations than they are to the concerns of their constituents.

In spite of the overwhelming support of term limits in Colorado, there are only two federally elected officials who have already agreed to self-limit – Senator Wayne Allard and Congressman Bob Schaffer. But the voters have already exhibited their support of term limits. In the 6th Congressional District Republican primary, a candidate who signed a pledge to limit his tenure to three terms in Congress upset the favorite who had publicly stated he would not agree to limit his tenure if elected.

Despite this support of term limits, some naysayers still exist. Opponents of term limits will claim that we need experience and longevity to look out for the interests of Colorado. But this is an elitist attitude that many career politicians hold, that assumes that Colorado voters don’t know what they are voting for. Three times this decade, Colorado voters have passed term limits initiatives. Coloradans have made it abundantly clear. They want citizen legislators, not career politicians.

Here in Colorado, our U.S. senators and representatives are the only officeholders not subject to term limits. Every attempt by the voters of Colorado to do what Congress won’t do to itself — pass congressional term limits — has been thwarted by unelected judges.

Amendment 18 is an important step towards getting rid of career politicians. By informing voters of the term limits position of candidates for Congress, voters are able to make a more informed decision on what type of candidate they want in Congress — a citizen legislator who will limit their tenure in Congress or a career politician.

Sending term-limit supporters to Congress will bring better, more responsive representation to Colorado citizens. And ultimately, Amendment 18 will bring Coloradans what nearly 70 percent of Colorado voters have repeatedly said they desire — congressional term limits.

Polhill is the co-chairman of the Colorado Term Limits Coalition.

No: It curbs our choices

By Robert D. Loevy

Once again the issue of term limits is making an appearance in the state of Colorado. I am referring to the Voluntary Congressional Term Limits initiative that will be on our ballot Nov. 3. This particular version of the ever-returning proposal provides that candidates for the U.S. House and Senate may note on the ballot their voluntary acceptance of term limits.

There was a time when term limits could be defended on a partisan basis. Prior to 1994, the Democratic Party controlled the U.S. House of Representatives for multiple decades, starting with the congressional elections of 1954. Republican strategists, desperate to break the apparent Democratic stranglehold on the House, came up with term limits as the solution to the problem. If incumbent Democratic legislators were forced by constitutional fiat to leave office after six or eight years, the thinking went, the Republicans would have a better chance of winning what would automatically become an “open” seat.

I confess that political science professors such as myself played a role in the increasing popularity of congressional term limits during the 1970s and 1980s. We carefully documented the ways in which incumbent Democratic House members skillfully used the powers of their elected offices to almost automatically get reelected.

By sending mail to their constituents (often at government expense), getting on television and doing favors, Democratic legislators in Washington, D C., were able to virtually guarantee their reelection for, it seemed, decades to come. As this process became well-known, many Republicans throughout the nation became supporters of term limits and began pushing the idea forward, in a nonpartisan or bipartisan fashion, as good for all levels of government, not just the House of Representatives.

But this 1998 version of congressional term limits for Colorado might best be characterized as “The Irrelevant Monster from the Past.” It is irrelevant because the Republican takeover of the U.S House in 1994 eliminated all logic, partisan or otherwise, for congressional term limits. The GOP showed that, even without term limits, enough Democratic incumbents could be defeated. And the best part of that historic turnover was that it was orchestrated by current voters, expressing their will in an open election, rather than by legalistic lines written in a national or state constitution.

So Colorado voters should keep in mind, as they troop to the polls, that the logic for supporting such a measure is buried in a partisan Republican past that is no longer relevant to the current political situation. In fact, now that the Republicans are the majority party in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, term limits actually work against the Republicans rather than for them.

It is true that term limits are rarely discussed in the directly partisan terms that I have presented them here. Term limit supporters do not like to admit that the original support for the idea came from a Republican desire to wrest control from the Democrats.

So, for those who want nonpartisan reasons to vote against Amendment 18, here they are:

· Term limits narrow the choices available to voters. When you go to the ballot box, you should be able to vote for any candidate you choose. If you like that 10-, 20- or even 30-year incumbent, you should be free to vote for her or him.

· Term limits unfairly penalize those with experience and proven skills in elective office. Do you automatically change your doctor every six years, even when he or she has done a great job of keeping you healthy? Voters should have the freedom to continue in office those elected officials who have served them well and demonstrated proven ability at successfully operating our government.

· Term limits increase the power of congressional staff members, who are not term-limited, and reduce the power of elected U.S. senators and representatives. Political scientists make good money teaching about the complex rules and labyrinthine legislative processes that characterize Capitol Hill. It is a system that places a premium on experience and knowing what has happened in the past. If elected officials are automatically forced out after six years or so in office, the only people who will “know the legislative ropes” will be the legislative bureaucrats who serve as Senate and House staff members. I would much rather be governed by an “old hand” who is an elected official, responsible to the voters, rather than by a paid bureaucrat, responsible to who knows what.

· Term limits attack the symptoms and not the underlying problems of electoral democracy in the United States. The real reason that members of the House get re-elected over and over again is that state governments fail to draw competitive U.S. House districts. Another reason is that incumbents tend to have a great deal more money than challengers have.

If we really want to make it easier for incumbents to be dislodged from office, let’s lobby for more competitive congressional districts and support campaign finance reform. Term limits just attack the superficial symptoms and leave the root causes of incumbency advantage unchanged.

Once again, it is time to reaffirm the idea that voters should have the greatest possible freedom to choose who will represent them in public office. Vote against Amendment 18.

Loevy is a professor of political science at The Colorado College. He is the author of “The Manipulated Path to the White House 1996: Maximizing Advantage in the Presidential Selection Process.”