First the bad news: The 1998 elections were notoriously uncompetitive. Most Americans had no opportunity to cast a meaningful congressional vote. The reelection rate was 98.5 percent. No one who had served in office for more than two terms was defeated, and a fifth of congressional incumbents had no opposition at all.
The 2000 congressional elections could be even worse. There are only 30 open House seats. These are races where lots of candidates can vie for the seat because the incumbent steps down. In an open election, no candidate has the automatic advantages of an incumbent.
Here’s the good news: Term limits. Though politicians in Congress have voted down term limits repeatedly, the issue hasn’t gone away. Incredibly, 16 of the 30 open house seats this year are the result of term limits. More than half of open seats from a reform that the career politicians brag about killing. Five committee chairmen are retiring this year because, under the Republicans’ most significant reform, their terms as chairmen are limited to six years. Eleven congressmen are honoring their pledges to step down under self-imposed term limits. Many of the candidates campaigning to take their place are likewise pledging to be citizen legislators, not career politicians.
Career incumbents who stay and stay and stay in Washington, DC, have monopolized our political process. Thank goodness term limits brings in new people and new ideas.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.