Should Congress be term-limited?

Last week, I attended and participated at the annual meeting for the conservative group known as the Club for Growth.  One thing that caught my ear was that most of the club members believe that Congress isn’t inhabited by the “pure at heart.” There are a lot of unusual things that can go down with the ever-looming lobbyists and the allure of personal gain.  Congress is broken.

Congress was thought to be the answer to the subprime mortgage scandals and the Wall Street shenanigans that almost brought on another Depression, but we were hit by a terrible recession that lasted a good nine years.  The authors of the legislation were Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Representative Barney Frank.  Both legislators were scheduled to step down from any other congressional elections. 

Don’t trust them
A warning to us all is to not trust lame-duck congressmen writing major legislation right before they leave Congress.  The temptation of doing sneaky stuff and then running off with the money, connections and fortune is too tempting.

The staffers of Rep. Frank and Sen. Dodd made the law very complicated, which demanded professional consultants charging high fees to explain it to our banking community.  These two camps of staffers went into business to consult and guide people through this massive piece of legislation for a handsome fee.  Both groups would start their work for a minimum retainer of $100,000.  Wow! What a great hustle!

Another example of “something must be stinky in our Congress” is the H1B visa program which was exposed on “60 Minutes” recently.  This allows a massive number of immigrant professional workers to enter the United States and begin their full-time employment.  They bring special talents that are in high demand amongst our industries. 

How it really works
Sounds great, but that isn’t how it works. They bring in talented foreign workers to replace our actively employed American workers. Our actively employed workers are working at, let’s say, the $120,000 level.  They are notified that they are being severed from employment.  But first, they must train the incoming H1B visa workers to take over their job description.  If they don’t train this person –whose employment will be $60,000 – then there will be no severance package because the American worker is, in fact, fired.  The victims were shattered and heartbroken.  Evildoers in Congress victimized these loyal American workers.

There are thieves in the castle called Congress.  How do we stop this?  It is simple. 

Congresspersons gain their influence and power through tenure – like a teacher or union member. 

What we need is a system of meritocracy, not tenure.  As we elect officials to represent and serve our best interests, we should not give them the luxury of playing it safe until they can take chances, and then start risking their careers by cheating and not living up to their code of ethics. 

You can be ethical in the beginning. But the more you become re-elected, the more you become spoiled and the feeling of invincibility settles in.  It is a blueprint for corruption.

Governors already limited
A major prevention of corruption is term limits.  Let’s first start with our governors. 

Per Wikipedia: “The governors of the following states and territories are limited to two consecutive terms, but are re-eligible after four years out of office:  Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Equivalently, the governors of Indiana and Oregon are limited to serving 8 out of any 16 years. 

The governors of Indiana and Oregon are limited to serving 8 out of any 12 years.  The governors of Montana and Wyoming are restricted to two terms, limited to serving 8 out of any 16 years. 

“The governors of the following states and territory are absolutely limited (for life) to two terms:  Arkansas, California, Delaware, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, the Northern Mariana Islands and Oklahoma.  The current governor of California (Jerry Brown) is, however, serving a fourth term because his first two terms were before limits were passed in California, and the limits did not apply to individuals’ prior terms.”

Just six years
That’s it for governors.  But for federally elected senators and representatives, let’s make it six years maximum.  That would be one election for senators and 3 terms for congresspersons.  Six years is plenty of time to leave a legacy.  Do your best and then turn it over to the next capable person. 

We don’t need examples of generations being handed over to family members or officials staying around for decades before leaving it to a relative.  The Dingells of Michigan are prime examples of this. 

One Dingell stays for decades. Upon his death, his son takes over and stays over a half century. Upon his illness and age, he hands it over to his very young wife.  It is like royalty! 

Here’s to good governance and meritocracy.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder and president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Contact him via www.nationalbcc.org.

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