August 1, 2021 | View PDF
During the last several decades, various people and groups have proposed term limits as a solution for stopping abuses done by politicians. The big argument is to return political offices back to people who actually want to serve for the public good instead of using the offices for their careers and political objectives.
The idea sounds like a noble one. Our country was founded on the principle of citizen legislators—people who volunteered for limited times to perform public services for very modest if any remuneration. Then they went back to their private endeavors. Our founders NEVER proposed perpetual well-paid public employment. Public service was never meant to be a profession.
In 1990, Jack Gargan, a retired “working stiff” in Tampa, Florida, vented his spleen in a spectacular manner by spending $50,000 of his retirement money to purchase a full page ad in six major newspapers with the headline, “I’M MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!” It blasted politicians for “arrogantly [voting] themselves the biggest pay raise in history,” having “abetted” the “S&L ripoff,”... “screwed senior citizens” by raiding the Social Security Trust Fund, and turning the United States into “the world’s biggest debtor nation.”
Jack collected donations and published bumper stickers and signs illustrated with a huge “Clean Sweep” broom.Money donated from hundreds of thousands of people enabled Jack to eventually purchase (according to Wikipedia) “633 full-page newspaper advertisements in nearly every major newspaper in the nation.”
On September 9, radio talk show host, Don Markwell, saw the ad in The Montgomery Advertiser, called Jack the next day, and featured him on Don Markwell’s Viewpoint for the show’s entire two hours. Jack discussed his new anti-incumbent organization T.H.R.O. Incorporated, which stood for “Throw the Hypocritical Rascals Out.”
Beginning with Colorado, three states passed term limit ballot initiatives in 1990. By 1995, 23 states had adopted congressional term limits. But then, in the case U. S. Term Limits v. Thornton, the U. S Supreme Court ruled that states could not impose term limits onto federal lawmakers.
We have certainly suffered from people who have “served,” or rather self-served, for most of their lives. A classic example is Ted Kennedy, who after his reckless actions at Chappaquiddick, continued to be re-elected to the U. S. Senate until the day he died.
If incumbents are so bad, why do people keep voting for them? Why do we have an epidemic of incumbentitis? Unfortunately, we have many immature and uninformed voters, thanks largely to Amendment 26 in the U. S. Constitution. That is why we should raise the voting age back at least to 21, as originally stated. The youngsters vote to do their “duty,” not realizing that not voting at all is far wiser than voting recklessly. They usually vote for the most familiar names, which in nearly all cases are the incumbents. And many also vote for them because they “bring home the bacon”—pork projects in their districts, which are often expensive and detrimental.
For a few offices, like the U. S. President, we do have term limits—in this case, two terms—eight years. For decades since our founding, we did not have this limit by law. But during that time, out of ethics and their honor, no president attempted to subvert that tradition.
But then, in 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt came into office and performed numerous dirty deeds. In 1936, he was re-elected and committed many more. Then in 1940, he did not step down. He ran for a third term and managed to win. As a result, we suffered the agonies of Pearl Harbor and its consequences. And then after that, in 1944, he went for a fourth term, became re-elected, and finally died in 1945.
During the 20th century, the American people suffered under three tyrannical presidents and their administrations—Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. Of these, Roosevelt was the most destructive. Part of it came from an extra five years in office.
Because of Roosevelt’s multitudes of vicious and unconstitutional actions, our congress decided to limit all future presidents to a maximum of two terms.
Several states followed this policy with their governors. Alabama is one of them.
However, our state representatives and senators are not limited. They can extend their public careers as long as they want and not ever worry about
becoming productive citizens in the private sector, as long as they can dupe the voters into re-electing them. Over the years, many have abused their offices.
The fundamental problem with imposing term limits is that it is up to our congress and state legislatures to vote for them. Only a few actually have enough ethics and backbone to vote against their own perks. It is right in line with trying to get them to vote for pay cuts and limits on their favorite pork projects.
Another problem with term limits is there is no guarantee that the replacements will be any better than the ones that go out. The same honey that attracts the flies is still there—the opportunities to gain power and control over the people. However, there is the hope that some “fresh blood” with less experience will not be as adept at fleecing the public.
And finally, term limits would also apply to our honest and ethical members. That can sometimes force out good people and allow them be replaced with bad ones.
There are other methods that have also been attempted to mitigate our plague of professional politicians. One is referendum and recall. It can sometimes be effective. And it can both eliminate undesirable office holders and repeal nasty and unconstitutional laws and actions. But it is difficult to implement. It requires the expensive and time consuming process of collecting, counting, and validating multitudes of signatures. These attempts often fail. And Alabama doesn’t even have it.
Another process is impeachment. It is even more difficult. And it is very haphazard. It often involves the opinions and actions of judges that belong to the same club as the culprits who have done the misdeeds. And it can also be used to wrongfully prosecute some of our better servants with false charges, like the past two attempts to get revenge against Donald Trump and to divert him from his official duties.
An effective and practical solution to thwart greed is to apply very strict limits on salaries and expenses. The idea of allowing politicians to vote for their own raises is utter insanity. All remuneration should be subject to a vote of the people.
A really great example of minimal pay is New Hampshire, which is unique as the home of North America’s lowest paid legislators. Its members collect salaries of only $100 per annum plus mileage for 45 legislative days. Presiding officers get a bit more. That’s it. Of course they do have ample time during the rest of the year for regular full time jobs.
But why would anyone want to work for such ridiculously low pay?
Obviously, they don’t do it for money. They do it as volunteers for public service, and usually as honest ones. Because of the low salaries, greedy candidates are often not inclined to even run for office. And also, because of the low wages, NH is able to have more representatives per capita than other states. “We have representation,” said Andy Borsa, a former Libertarian NH state representative.
California is on the other end of the spectrum with true professional politicians who suck up $114,877 per annum plus a daily (undisclosed) per diem. Why bother working for a living? And why bother even thinking about the hard-working taxpayers struggling to pay their living expenses?
Yes, the California legislators do “work” full time. But that is the last thing we would want. Legislation should be minimal, laid back, and only part time. 45 working days per year is more than ample. Biennial (once every two years) regular sessions and minimal special sessions would be even better. Anything more leads to tyranny and oppression.
We have still another procedure that can help establish term limits. Instead of limiting their times in office, we could make them face the voters more often by holding more frequent elections.
We all know that our U. S. Representatives serve two year terms. Yes, they can run as many times as they wish, but they must always face the voters every two years. That allows the good people to remain in office while continuously providing the public with frequent opportunities to throw out the misfits. If a good person later becomes greedy or corrupt, he can be promptly dumped before he can do much damage. We can do it quickly without the hassles of canvassing, petitioning, collecting signatures, and the lengthy attempts to settle issues in court.
A good example is our own Governor Kay Ivey. If we had two-year terms, we could have thrown her out last November and cut short her emergency power abuses. But with our current four-year terms, we now have to wait until November of next year. We suffer an extra two years of potential continued abuse.
If we can implement two year terms for our elected people—governor, legislators, county commissioners, judges, sheriffs, city councilmen, and all others, we can more easily force them to mind their P's and Q's—not have to wait what seems like forever to throw out the rotten apples. We could join the two other states—Vermont and New Hampshire—that already hold their state elections every two years.
Now one might ask about the expenses of these extra elections. Please understand that we already go to the polls every two years anyway. The only difference will be more people on the ballots. And the few elections that are done on odd numbered years can be switched to even numbered ones.
There will be a small extra cost for the larger ballots, but that will be money well spent to gain more honest public servants. This is a small price to pay for what is clearly the most effective method available to improve their quality.
Although not perfect, a workable solution for term limits contains four parts:
1. Raise the minimum voting age to at least 21—better yet, 25.
2. Low salaries / minimal remuneration / income subject to a vote of the people.
3. Limited work hours. Biennial regular legislative sessions. Few special sessions. No extra time to concoct abusive laws and programs.
4. Frequent elections—an election every two years for everybody.
1. Gargan, Jack, I’m Mad as Hell and I’m not going to Take it Anymore,
The Montgomery Advertiser, September 9, 1990.
2. Jacob, Paul, The Man from THRO, November, 11, 2018.
3. Comparison of State Legislative Salaries, April 19, 2021.