The older I get, the more I like term limits.
This is not to say that longevity is all bad. Sen. Mike Crapo, who chairs the banking committee, and Congressman Mike Simpson, who sits on the appropriations committee, are in those high places partly because they’ve been around for a long time.
But there also are benefits to occasional turnover, and fresh perspectives. Three of the four members of Idaho’s congressional delegation essentially have the job security of U.S. Supreme Court justices. They are not likely to be voted out of office, and campaign funds will not dry up.
Next year’s Republican primary will be different because of the chain reaction caused by Gov. Butch Otter’s decision to retire after 12 years. We’re seeing three strong candidates vying to take his place in Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Congressman Raul Labrador and Boise developer Tommy Ahlquist.
With Labrador leaving his First District seat, we have three solid candidates on the campaign trail — former Lt. Gov. David Leroy, former state Sen. Russ Fulcher and state Rep. Luke Malek. Four candidates, at the moment, are lined up for lieutenant governor — Sen. Marv Hagedorn, Rep. Kelly Packer, former state GOP chairman Steve Yates and former Rep. Janice McGeachin.
A couple of candidates are trying to ensure that spirited races become part of the norm in Idaho. Leroy is calling for term limits in Congress, while Ahlquist is seeking term limits in state offices. They are not breaking new ground. Idaho voters approved term limits, only to be overturned by the Legislature in 2002.
Labrador, who has proposed a constitutional amendment calling for term limits, is the only Idaho candidate with legislation on the table. But don’t hold your breath for the career politicians in Congress to push term limits upon themselves. Leroy thinks there’s a better chance for states to ratify the amendment, and go over the heads of Congress. That’s also a long shot, but Leroy says it could be an issue “if anger at the federal level continues to sizzle.”
It’s easy for Leroy to talk about term limits. He’ll be a 70-year-old freshman if he wins, and he wouldn’t be there for more than a few terms anyway. It’s a more difficult proposition for Malek, who is in his 30s and has more long-term ambitions if he wins the congressional seat.
“I have always opposed term limits,” Malek says. “They imply that people don’t have the wisdom to choose representation. More complacency is the last thing we need in politics right now.”
In my view, the electorate collectively doesn’t have the wisdom, brains or desire to choose its representatives. Primary elections have disgustingly low turnouts and general elections are an exercise of voting for the person with the “R” by his/her name, regardless of competency. Yes, complacency is alive and well in the Gem State.
Fulcher favors a constitutional amendment for term limits for all members of Congress, but discourages Idaho from going on its own. He’s right on this one. “Tenure is a factor when it comes to the assignment of chairmanships, and leadership roles in Congress; and those roles come with incremental influence.”
On the state side, Ahlquist is calling for state constitutional officers to be limited to eight years, and he makes a good case. “This step is critical to ensuring we have responsive, citizen-based leadership — and to avoid allowing the status quo to run the Statehouse for years on end.”
I don’t feel so strongly about limiting state offices, other than the governor, to eight years. Voters hardly pay attention to those offices, and research rarely goes beyond voting for the Republican on the ballot. But I have never seen a governor, or U.S. president for that matter, who I wanted to see in office for more than eight years.
We’ll see where all this goes. There could be enough fuel for a voter initiative for term limits, and I’d bet on passage if that happens. Term limits on the congressional level are less likely anytime soon, but there’s no telling what a Trump-like revolution might produce — especially if Congress continues to accomplish nothing.
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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.