John Adams was pro term limits as was his frienemy Tom Jefferson.The Republican's Contract with America included term limits.
In ancient Greece, elected officials were term limited. From the 6th century BC many Athenian officials were elected by random lottery to serve a term of a year. Elected Roman officials were also no strangers to term limits of a single term.
Many of the framers of the fledgling United States governance system were also enamored of this notion. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson all considered term limits to be an important way of placing checks on individual power.
Lists of pros and cons for term limits tend to include the following:
Term limits terminates the 'good' politicians along with the 'bad'.
This appears to be one of only two valid opposition arguments, but it is fully counterbalanced by the fact that, with unlimited terms in place, an unknowable number of talented individuals never run for office in the first place, or if they do, they lose, because incumbents 'always' win. [The American public believes that incumbents have an unfair advantage in elections]
Term limits reduces voter choice.
Obviously a false argument, since as incumbents reach reelection rates of 98%, most voters are being deprived of real choice. [Here in North County, we've had lots of pols get reelected without any real contest or any option within the same ideological tint as the incumbent, however that is not very true for city council races.]
The Fundamental Argument Against
Term limits are undemocratic. Judiciary Committee chairman Hatch complains that term limits demonstrate "a fundamental lack of faith in the common sense and good judgment of the voters," even though it is the voters who are approving them. [That's worth reading twice.]
Its Not Constitutional
The nation's Founders, along with famed Roman statesmen and British classical liberals, strongly believed in rotation in office. Unfortunately for Americans today, the Framers left limits on terms out of the Constitution. But then, they did not think limits would be necessary, for they did not foresee that politics would become a career for so many people.
Term Limits Give Lobbyists More Influence
If term limits help lobbyists, why do they uniformly oppose term limits? Special interests raised $3.3 million to block term limits in California in 1990; they are literally the only parties that donate to "no" campaigns.
Term Limits Promote loss of experience
There is also the related matter to consider that at the local level there has been a rise in council manager systems, bucked only by the largest cities. So this issue is diluted by that factor. Related: Inexperienced leaders will be easy prey for special interests: It is feared that bureaucrats and permanent staff will dominate them. [This is a loaded issue that deserves its own blog post.]
Term limits remove popular leaders:
This can be true. Both Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor Hardberger of San Antonio are proof of that at present. However, does this mean that no one else replacing them can be popular? Are individuals more important than the system?
The following point was published as part of a review of term limits at City Mayors.com.
Term limits negatively affect the types of projects that elected leaders implement, and the continuity of those projects: This depends on the types of project involved and whether they were of the type that would not be supported by a successor. [If its not supported by the MAJORITY of the successors, doesn't that say something?]
The Washington Post has a series on term limits that focuses on congressional limit, but is relevant:
Inside Congress, I believe, term limits would likely weaken the influence and protection small states gain through seniority… But two things are clear. One inevitable result of term limits will be to cut short the careers of talented elected officials who retain the confidence of their constituents and have years of capable service still to give.
[There was no real option or debate for Encinitas Congressman Duke Cunningham's seat for most of the gazillion times he was reelected. Duke's power structure and cult became so entrenched that an Encinitas council member publicly defending him after the details of the bribe scheme became known. Reports of Duke's bizarre public behavior and policy contradictions never had to be reconciled in the public or debated because he held the power of incumbency.]
History of Term Limits
Term limited congressmen and state legislators have to plan for a personal future other than that of a professional politician on the government payroll. They have to look forward to years of living under the laws they pass, and paying the taxes they set. In other words, they cease to be 'them' and behave more like 'us'.
Without term limits, incumbents have a huge advantage in elections: this may be true anywhere, but it is particularly true in the United States. Incumbents build up name identification over the years, and accumulate war chests, lists of donors, media contacts, and political skills (and favours owed to them). This makes it difficult for challengers to win.
The most competitive races in the US are for 'open' seats where there is no incumbent. Second to that are incumbents running for their first re-election, before they have built up such a formidable political advantage.
The text in this mash up is from:
Washington Post Series
The Cato Institute (Pro)
Adam Smith.org (Pro)
Time Mag Series
[Comments in brackets are Leucadia bloggers' comments.]