The political class hates term limits. It’s official. A new Cato study, “Defining Democracy Down: Explaining the Campaign to Repeal Term Limits,” shows how relentlessly career politicians and their allies have opposed legislative term limits over the years.
The career politicians hate term limits because under term limits their legislative monopolies collapse. Basham observes that “the absence of term limits severely limits the competition for legislative seats. In Idaho, for example, the 2000 election saw 66 percent of state senators and 50 percent of state house members elected without opposition.” No opponent at all. But in states that do have term limits, electoral competition happens regularly.
Basham says repeal efforts usually fail “because they have been led by those who are seemingly intent on preserving their professional advantages and institutional perks regardless of ‘common good’ considerations. Only once have such efforts passed voter inspection.” But the “voter inspection” in question, a referendum in Idaho, was clouded by a confusingly-worded ballot question.
The experience in Idaho suggests that term limits need to be passed as constitutional amendments, rather than as mere statutes. Legislators can repeal a term-limits statute unilaterally, but they must ask voters to roll back a constitutional amendment. And voters tend not to play along. And that, for the political class, is what makes term limits and robust democracy so very bad.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.