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Fixing American Democracy: Federal Term Limits

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Fixing American Democracy: Federal Term Limits

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Part 5 of a six-part series. See Part 1: The Right to Vote For Everyone, Part 2: Increase the House, Part 3: Paper Trail Vote by Mail, and Part 4: Shorten the Election Season.

So, we’ve defined a right to vote using ranked choice ballots, blown up the House of Representatives to over 6,400 members, thus radically transforming the balance of power in the Electoral College, protected our vote and increased our access with a mail-in paper ballot, and compressed the election season down to Labor Day to Election Day (in the same year).

Now we tackle the threat to democracy that presents a double-edged sword: a great legislator and a lousy legislator can both leverage the power of their office to retain their seat for decades. How do we keep the great legislators in service to the country while ensuring the lousy legislators don’t become barnacles on the ship of state?

Step Five: Federal Term Limits

Homework: TermLimits.org (though this is the Sen. Vitter-sponsored 3x Rep / 2x Senator version, no repeal of 22nd Amendment)

How it could happen: Two-thirds of Congress or two-thirds of state legislatures call for a 28th Amendment repealing the 22nd Amendment and creation of a 29th Amendment establishing term limits.

Why it will not happen: Try convincing a bunch of >=2nd-term senators and >=6th-term congressmen to vote for their own unemployment.

For the longest time, I’ve hated the concept of term limits. Without the two-term limit on president, we wouldn’t be having this Trump problem. Besides, if someone is a good politician / public servant, why should we flush them?

Here are fourteen votes against a twenty-four-year limit in Congress.

But my ideological purity on the issue has been undermined by practical considerations – namely, money and incumbency lead to something like a 95%+ re-election rate.

I can’t believe that 95%+ of our elected officials are good politicians / public servants.

I suggest we repeal the 22nd Amendment limiting presidents to two terms and replace it with a new term limits amendment that limits holding a position in federal office any longer than twelve years.

If you want to be a Congressman, you get six two-year terms, max. A Senator gets two six-year terms. A President gets three four-year terms. A Supreme Court Justice gets one twelve-year term (as would each level of the federal court system).

However, you are allowed to serve in more than one federal office. Thus, you could be a six-term Congressman, then become a two-term Senator, then become a three-term President, then serve twelve years on the Supreme Court (or longer, if one is working up through the judicial branch).

This way, if someone is that good politician / public servant, they could theoretically serve their country for 48 years (or longer)… but ya gotta keep moving up. No more incumbent complacency from being a multi-decade unbeatable congressional barnacle.

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