Front Page Forums Government Term limits

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    At each level of government, the constitution should clearly state that 1) each elected and appointed position in government must have a term limit; 2) that elected officials shall not serve consecutive terms; and 3) that no elected or appointed official shall serve more than a cumulative total of 10 years in the same office.

    The reasons for these limits include:

    * Facilitate the peaceful transfer of power; any attempt to stay in office past the term limit would be clearly unconstitutional and the incentive to rig elections is reduced without a direct personal benefit
    * Improve focus on the elected duties without the distraction of a re-election campaign in the final year
    * Deter corruption; the limited term creates frequent opportunities to discover improper conduct
    * Improve accountability; officials elected to a single term have a clear mandate based on their campaign promises and prohibition on consecutive terms provides ample time to evaluate whether they fulfilled those promises or not before they run again

    Therefore the term for elected officials in this branch should be limited, so that any damage by a corrupt official can be limited. Although we cannot predict who will fulfill the duties of their office and who will be corrupt, it’s better to design a system that will routinely prevent, deter, or limit corruption than a system that will allow corrupt officials to entrench themselves and further corrupt the government. A good official will not suffer from serving one term of duty and then moving on. A corrupt official will want to hold on to the power. Term limits are not a complete solution but they are an effective tool against corruption.

    Note that without consecutive terms, there is not a direct personal benefit to rig an election but there can still be indirect benefits when an elected official engages in a conspiracy to rig the election in favor of a preferred candidate who will then reward the prior elected official. Prohibiting consecutive terms is a tool for the peaceful transfer of power but does not guarantee it. The people must always be vigilant of attempts to subvert the democracy.

    Whenever the same people are involved in running an operation for a long time, there is a concern that some of them might be corrupt because the longer they stay in the position, the more time they have to cover up misdeeds or abuse the position.

    Some examples of the cumulative total: two 5-year terms, two 4-year terms (serving 8 years which is less than the maximum of 10), two or three 3-year terms, five 2-year terms, or ten 1-year terms in a lifetime.

    Executive Branch

    Without a prohibition on consecutive terms, a significant percentage of an executive’s time in office is spent campaigning for re-election. For example, in the Executive Branch of the United States Government, the president’s term limit has been two 4-year terms, and campaigns generally start a year in advance of the election which means a first-term president has a significant re-election distraction for 25% of their time in office. A second problem with consecutive terms is that when an elected president runs for re-election, is at that time the president may have the means, the motive, and the opportunity to “rig” or interfere with the election in some way that would be advantageous to getting re-elected. Even if a president doesn’t act unfairly, the mere possibility that the president did act and it just hasn’t been discovered yet, and the history of political accusations of rigged elections around the world, are enough justify a constraint on this activity in a society that values the peaceful transfer of power. The same situation applies to state governors and mayors.

    Any time served as acting president, for example if the person was the vice president when the elected president died or became incapacitated, should not count towards the cumulative limit (because the office is “vice president acting president” not “elected president”). However, due to the president’s important role to oversee fair elections, and due to the inherent conflict of interest present when the person overseeing the elections is also a candidate, and due to the other reasons stated above in support of limited non-consecutive terms of office, an acting president cannot be a candidate in the next election for president. That person is still eligible for the full cumulative term limit and could be a candidate in a future election.

    Legislative Branch

    Elected officials in the Legislative Branch don’t pose the same direct threat to elections that officials in the executive branch do, but the risk of corruption with continuing service is still there. Furthermore, legislators who want to get re-elected spend considerable time posturing, sending political “signals”, scoring political “points”, and campaigning for re-election during their term. Even more problematic is a situation in which a member votes a certain way not because that’s what their constituents want, but because that’s what their donors and sponsors want and not voting that way would hurt their chances of re-election. In the United States, members of the House of Representatives have two-year terms so they are vulnerable to such corruption much of the time they are in office.

    Enforcing non-consecutive terms means that legislators must also have a job, business, or at least housework, to do between terms. They can use their time between elected terms to solicit donors, talk with people to figure out what people want, and campaign for their next election. Such activities should not be paid for by tax dollars. It would be very complicated to prohibit such activities for elected legislators because someone would have to interpret every speech, every press interview, every private meeting or phone call, and every trip. Instead, the better way is to prohibit consecutive terms and then we increase the chances that legislators focus on campaigning before their term and legislation during their term.

    Judicial Branch

    Appointed officials in the Judicial Branch don’t pose a direct threat to elections, but should also have term limits to defend against political appointments that last far beyond the majority in the legislature that appointed them. Instead of a lifetime appointment, the term of judges should be limited. This is important to ensure that judges are responsive to society’s approval or disapproval of their conduct, rulings, and opinions — not because of the pressure of re-election or re-appointment, which would not be a possibility, but because the term limit provides the opportunity to appoint or elect someone else. Like a lifetime term, the knowledge that their decisions won’t affect whether or not they keep the position frees judges to do their best work and not be concerned with political or career consequences. For early-career judges, the term limits also facilitate a career in justice by forcing judges to “re-shuffle” and move to different positions and participate in a different way, for example different levels of the court or different jurisdictions. For the highest courts that need consistency and need to retain experienced judges, such as the Supreme Court in the United States, the judges should be appointed to a single 10-year term. Such appointments typically come later in a person’s career, and judges that complete that 10-year term can then return to private life.

    Investigative Branch

    Although the Investigative Branch has a purpose to keep all other branches of government (and the public) honest, the elected official in the Investigative Branch itself has an opportunity to directly interfere with elections or with an elected government by opening sham investigations into political opponents and leaking information or disinformation about them.

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