By Tom Mullikin
Term limits is a phrase often tossed around by politicians at all levels of government. But a concept that is rarely debated or voted on in Congress.
Most people have forgotten that congressional term limits was actually in the 1994 Contract with America’s “Citizen Legislature Act” proposal by then Speaker Newt Gingrich and other Republican leaders.
Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress the majority of the 22 years since 1995. With that in mind, the fact that no federal term limits bill has been passed in either chamber during this time-frame speaks to the root of the problem. The truth is candidates for office like to talk about term limits, but that somehow changes once they are elected. Don’t get me wrong, these term limits supporters didn’t turn into hypocrites overnight; it is unfortunately a slow but effective process.
When a term limits supporting member of Congress first gets elected, one of the more senior members tells them, “You’ve got to pay your dues and learn the ropes before you start introducing big bills like that.”
The new member, fully intending to support term limits, then agrees to back off until they have in fact ‘been around long enough to gather support for their bill.’ Two years or so later, after they’ve either survived a re-election campaign, or more often than not, been re-elected with virtually no opposition, their inevitable transition begins.
Their same colleagues who – when the new member was first elected – told them to hold off on filing term limits legislation, now come back to them saying, “People are just now starting to listen to you. Do you really want to throw all that away over a term limits bill that won’t go anywhere?”
The member of Congress reluctantly agrees to hold off a little longer. Two years later, the member has been re-elected a second time, and those same colleagues come calling again saying, “People know who you are, they respect you, and you’re in the position to get things accomplished now. If we had those term limits you used to talk about so much, you’d be two years from being done, weren’t you silly for thinking that?”
The member who has come to enjoy his job thinks about the three elections they have already had to win and decides to become someone who would vote for term limits if put on the spot, but certainly not pushing it anymore.
Two years later, the member has been re-elected a third time. Adding insult to injury that same member, who ran on their support for term limits finds himself or herself pulling freshmen aside and saying, “You’ve got to pay your dues and learn the ropes before you start introducing big bills like term limits.”
We’ve all heard of the circle of life. Well this is the circle of hypocrisy, and we’ve all seen it happen to good people who honestly supported term limits when they first ran for Congress.
It takes an exceptional person to voluntarily give up power and influence. I’m sure there is not a single American who doubts George Washington could have been elected to a third term as president had he chosen to run. However, America was blessed by the model of Washington and other founding fathers who believed in the concept of citizen leaders who would serve for a short time and then return to their careers in the model of the Roman Gen. Cincinnatus (who declined the vast powers offered to him by the Roman Senate in order to return to his small farm after leading a successful defense of Rome.)
But the concept of citizen leadership is lost in Congress today. With big paychecks, million dollar staff budgets, and lobbyists treating them like royalty, it has gotten harder and harder to walk away.
A few years back, in an effort to solve the problem, candidates started committing to limit their own terms instead of passing term limits for the House and Senate. Of course some of them broke those pledges and stayed, but sadly the only thing those who kept their pledges achieved, was putting their state at a disadvantage in a body that prioritizes seniority.
I was the first candidate in my race to make a commitment supporting term limits on television, asking to be held accountable. I, of course, am a signer of the U.S. Term Limits Pledge, but the good people of the 5th district of South Carolina deserve more than commitments and pledges. You deserve action.
So in addition to supporting term limits, I pledge to be a bill sponsor for term limits.
That’s not all. As your congressman, I will update you regularly on the status of my term limits bill. You will know the names of those who oppose it and even those who fail to be supportive.
Finally, if you elect me as your congressman, you can be sure that I’m one of the strongest and most vocal supporters of term limits in America. If you’re not convinced, I will respect the fact that you will need to vote for someone else in the next election.
As Republicans, we all share a sense of pride in the way Pres. Trump has gotten straight to work keeping his promises. That’s not what we’re used to seeing from those elected, but if I’m your congressman, I will follow in his footsteps and keep my word as well.
– Tom Mullikin is a Republican candidate for U.S. Congress (5th District, South Carolina)