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Posts Tagged ‘term limits’

Politics as Usual

The ongoing, never ending Republican debates are making me sick.  It’s a real three ring circus with the candidates swooping into some town in the heartland to shake hands, proclaim that “aw shucks, I’m just one of the people” and pose for sound bites.  Rick Santorum appears at a shooting range, Mitt Romney goes “down home” and brags about eating grits and biscuits for breakfast.  Newt Gingrich is—Newt Gingrich.  The whole thing begins to look more and more like a Saturday Night Live sketch run amok.

Don’t get me wrong.  I would hate this just as much if they were Democrats.  In fact I did shudder whenever the last  Democratic race was televised.  It had all the petty, acrimonious debate we’re being treated to this spring and a lot fewer really interesting candidates. With less good hair.

But the fact remains that these folks, Republican or Democrat, are career politicians, running for office in a country which keeps either electing or appointing them to a place at the public trough.

It wasn’t always this way.  Since the founding of our Republic, most Americans have been skeptical of concentration of political power.  The founders created a system of checks and balances meant to discourage the accumulation of power and influence. Congressional service was viewed as a part time job held by citizen legislators who would serve and then return home to their farms and businesses.

In his excellent book, 1861 The Civil War Awakening (Alfred A. Knopf, $28.95), Adam Goodheart writes “. . . These were the sorts of valuables that the capital city’s transient denizens often left behind, as the ever revolving wheel of congressional elections and presidential administrations, the waxing and waning  of political parties, regularly returned large numbers of inhabitants to the far flung provinces from which they had so recently arrived.”

Turnover back then was probably helped by the fact that legislators were paid $6 a day, while they were in session. If the member needed an assistant, he was paid out of the member’s pocket. In 1815 members began receiving an annual salary of $1,500 a year.  Today the salary is $174,000 for members of congress.  (The salary has been frozen for 2010 and 2011. Boo Hoo.)

Texas is one of 13 states that have no term limits for governor.  Our current governor, Rick Perry, is the longest serving governor in the state’s history. Perry was elected lieutenant governor in 1998, took over the governorship when George  W. Bush was elected President in 2000, and won terms of his own in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 races.  Early viewers of the Republican debates can judge for themselves how well his long experience in office inspired and educated Perry.

Unless the American people decide to demand term limits, it will remain pretty much politics as usual.  The incumbents will be re-elected and gridlock will cripple the country.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that a constitutional amendment will be needed to impose limits.

It was Ronald Reagan who wrote “One thing our founding fathers could not foresee . . .is a nation governed by professional politicians who have a vested interest in getting reelected.  They probably envisioned a fellow serving a couple of hitches and then looking forward to getting back to the farm.”

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