Senator Jim DeMint on Term Limits

I started a discussion on term limits a couple of years ago on this site and between what I said then and what I have said on other sites I think my position on term limits is fairly clear – I believe that term limits generally produce benefits that far outweigh the drawbacks that opponents will cite. I think solid evidence of that is that not one state (out of 15) that has enacted a term limit law and had it start limiting terms has ever repealed their term limit law. (Six states did enact laws and then repeal them before they took effect – including Utah.) Coming from that position, I was happy to hear the announcement from Senator Jim DeMint that he plans to introduce a term limits amendment soon.

While I have some questions about some of the specifics of what he plans to propose like how he decided that three terms would be the appropriate limit for members of the House or how flexible he would be on the particular limits he is proposing, I found one statement that he made very insightful about the last time that term limits were seriously pursued by the political class.

Fifteen years ago, Republicans – who had been out of power in Congress for forty years – made term limits a centerpiece of their “Contract with America” agenda.

The term limits constitutional amendment ultimately failed, in part because so many new reform-minded congressmen imposed term limits on themselves. After six or eight years, these members voluntarily went home, leaving behind those Republicans and Democrats who fully intended to make a career inside the beltway.

The fact is, party doesn’t matter when it comes to reform. If you want to change the policies, you have to change the process.

He’s absolutely right that no significant reform will come in how Washington operates until we make structural changes that force it to operate differently. His comment that many of those who wanted to enact term limits voluntarily term-limited themselves – thus crippling the attempt by leaving it in the hands of those who had no interested in being term limited was insightful. I realized that anyone who wants to make such a change would have to take the attitude and make a pledge to stay in Washington as long as possible until they either got term limits enacted or else until they no longer believed that term limits were worth pursuing. Those who will impose their own limits independent of everybody else will limit their own comparative effectiveness by granting more power to those who do not believe in their ideals (specifically the ideal of having term limits).

7 comments for “Senator Jim DeMint on Term Limits

  1. Ronald D. Hunt
    October 23, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    I think term limits make it more difficult for a party to develop leaders. I would much prefer the House of Reps being changed to a National Proportional voting system, This would change our system into a MultiParty system as well.

    • October 23, 2009 at 3:30 pm

      I see a problem with that way of thinking – members of the House and Senate should already be leading figures within their parties – they should no go to Congress and then develop into party leaders.

      You are absolutely right that a National Proportional Voting System would completely change our structure and would encourage the development and inclusion of more than two parties – it would turn the House of Representatives into something akin to Israel’s Knesset. Now think about what you are suggesting – who would be your representative? No longer would you have a member of congress who was accountable to you – each member of Congress would be accountable to their party only. The people would only have direct claim on their local party, not on any member of the House.

      I’m not saying that it can’t be done. Israel and others have been using this kind of system for decades but please do not pursue it without acknowledging what a fundamental change it would be to our system. It would mean that the very concept of geographical districts, the very thought of constituencies based on location rather than ideology, would be nothing more than a dream. You could be assured of a higher degree of ideological purity within any given party, but you would also minimize the necessity of working with others with whom you did not already basically agree. (And you know it could only come about through an amendment.)

  2. Ronald D. Hunt
    October 24, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Their are other ways to get the benefits of a multiparty system, Instant Runoff voting for example. And as much as I like the idea of a strong national body that is not beholden to bring home the pork I can understand wanting to be able to point at someone and Say I am one of his boss’s he’s my rep and is going to answer to the people of my district.

    Election reform has actually always been a big progressive cause so I am unsure of how some of the idea’s would be taken here. But for the purpose of putting them on the table I will cut and past a resent part of a post on the blog.

    “Changing the election laws is a major goal. Repealing laws intended to discourage voting is a starting point, and this is something that third parties, dissident Democrats, and even many mainstream Democrats can cooperate on. Next are various reforms intended to weaken the stranglehold of the two-party leadership: laws making it easier to qualify for the ballot and run as an independent, laws making fusion, instant runoff, and open primaries possible, and the abolition of “loyalty oaths” forbidding candidates defeated in the primaries from running as independents or for other parties. All of these later proposals should get support from everybody but mainstream Democrat, and they’re a good place to start for that reason.”

    • October 24, 2009 at 8:16 am

      Yes, instant runoff voting (IRV) is a much better way to loosen the two-party monopoly in our system in my opionion. I don’t mind addressing causes that are generally favored by progressives so I’d like to give my take on the ideas listed at

      “Repealing laws intended to discourage voting” sounds good on the surface but it’s to generic, I’d carefully consider each law they propose repealing to decide if I support each case. the overall goal of weakening the stranglehold of the two-party system is something I generally agree with. I think that we should be careful how restrictive we are about getting on the ballot. I have seen the pros and cons of IRV and I think it’s worth trying where people are willing. It’s certainly worth considering and educating people about the option. I am in favor of doing away with loyalty oaths – if a person wants to run and can get on the ballot then they should be allowed to do so. I understand why the parties do not like it, but I don’t think that we do ourselves any favors in the long run by simplifying the democratic process to the point that voters don’t feel the need to do their homework.

  3. Ronald D. Hunt
    October 24, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    This isn’t an issue I have deeply analyzed like I have with other issues. This discussion has been very enlightening and pointed me at issues I was unaware of previously.

  4. October 24, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    You may recall that I originally opposed the idea of term limits, but I’ve come around to your position. I believe that career politicians are generally worse for good government than (truly) temporary politicians would be. Believe me, I understand that there are pros and cons to both ways, but I now believe that the pros of term limits outweigh the cons.

    Ronald has some decent ideas about loosening the grip of the two-party duopoly. I’m not too thrilled about some, but I could fully support others. Most of these kinds of things need to bubble up from the local level to the state level, and then from the state level to the national level.

    I was disappointed that the Supreme Court ruled that states could not limit the terms of their U.S. senators and congressional representatives, because I think that experimentation with this kind of thing at the state level is a model of achieving respectably acceptable political change. I do, however, appreciate the court’s interpretation of the matter, so I cannot say that the court erred.

  5. October 24, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    I don’t understand why the Supreme Court would rule that states cannot limit the terms of their own Senators. I recognize the political drawbacks for a state to do that to themselves when other states have no such requirement.

    I do recognize how it might be argued that a state could not limit the terms of the Representatives because the Representatives do not represent the whole state. Imagine Utah passing such a restriction because the majority of the state does not like having a Democrat representing the second district – there they could be overriding the desires of a majority of the residents of the second district who keep sending Jim Matheson back to Washington every two years. If there were no incumbent Democrat running for the seat the Republicans would have a better chance of taking that seat.


    I’m glad to hear that the discussions are valuable to more people than just me.

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