Bill Ellis: The problem with endless terms in government office

Bill Ellis / St. Vrain Valley Voices
Bill Ellis / St. Vrain Valley Voices

In the April 28 Times-Call, George Will said we should amend the Constitution to bar senators from the presidency. That’s a good start, but much more should be done. In Thomas Jefferson’s collected letters, he wrote that our newly hatched Constitution would need revision every 19 or 20 years. To this end, our current document has been amended 27 times, but never completely.

Jefferson wrote that “each generation” should have the “solemn opportunity” to update the Constitution “every nineteen or twenty years,” thus allowing it to “be handed on,” with periodical repairs, from generation to generation, to the end of time.

Will’s idea would be hotly debated and defeated by the very people he wants to exclude from the presidency.

I have a simpler idea: Let’s implement term limits on all elected offices, federal judges and Supreme Court justices. I think 10 years is enough for judges. Let there be no more lifetime appointments. Allow two terms in office for legislative and executive positions. The purpose was always to keep any elected official from developing an empire within government bureaucracy. That’s first.

Second, set a mandatory retirement age at 65 when the rest of us can draw Social Security and former office holders can do the same. It is anathema that we have created a political class that has voted itself privileges the rest of us do not have.

The oldest U.S. senator is 88, and there are three who are are 87. The oldest 15 range in age from 74 to 88. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is 80. In the House, the oldest 15 range in age from 80 to 88. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi is 82.

Wealth is another measurement. In general, all members were millionaires in the 116th Congress. And there have been recent rumblings of ethics violations by members taking advantage of insider trading using information revealed in hearings.

The biggest problem I have with age and wealth results from our representatives slipping further and further away in social connections from average people. Members get health care as a benefit of their jobs. Regular folks like us don’t have that privilege. Neither can we raise our salaries, but Congress can. Members have created their own retirement system with qualification beginning after only five years service. That perk should be abolished.

Term limits has been a popular concept since mid-20th century. We have it here in Colorado, and it’s working fine. I always vote against an elected official who wants another term but is denied such because he is term-limited.

The worst example of allowing members of Congress to serve forever is found in the delays for Civil Rights legislation. Certain Southern senators ruled the roost for decades, refusing improvements to the civil rights of African Americans. The South had enjoyed 400 years of free labor from its slaves, and Southern members of Congress ensured its continuance. Virginia had Harry Byrd, Georgia had Richard Russell. Worst of all, South Carolina had Strom Thurmond.

Underlying the problem of endless service by older and older elected representatives is the fact that their campaigns are funded by corporations. There is no distinction between private and personal campaign financing. And that horrendous mistake was made by a Supreme Court run amok.

Bill Ellis is a Longmont resident. Respond to

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