Term Limits Debate

History and Debate of Term Limits

Term limits ensure that elected public officials cannot remain in power indefinitely. They do this by putting a restriction on the number of terms someone may be elected to a public office. Some term limit provisions only restrict the number of consecutive terms a leader may serve; others limit the total number of terms over a lifetime. Lifetime terms limits are much more restrictive, since an official may never again be a candidate for an office in which she or he has served the limit of terms. On the other hand, a limit to serving consecutive terms means a politician could conceivably be re-elected to the same seat over and over as long as there was a break in between each period of service.

The practice of term limits goes back at least as far as Ancient Greece and Rome, both societies which had elected officials rather than a royal family or a theocracy. Several modern presidential republics also enforce term limits on a variety of offices. For example, Mexico limits its president to one term of six years' duration, and its congress people cannot serve consecutive terms. The Russian Federation limits consecutive terms for its president to no more than two.

In the United States, term limits date back to the colonial period, when William Penn provided for triennial rotation of the upper house of the colonial legislature in his Pennsylvania Charter of Liberties. Currently, the President of the United States can only serve two terms as provided for in Amendment 22 to the Constitution, but there are no restrictions on terms for the Vice-President or for members of Congress. There have, however, been calls for the introduction of term limits for other national offices in an effort to prevent one person, such as William Byrd in West Virginia or Teddy Kennedy in Massachusetts, from virtually holding an elected position for life.

Within the United States, policies on term limits for officials elected to state or local offices vary, with some localities enforcing them and others having no such policy. Term limits are less common in countries that have a parliamentary republic rather than a presidential one, since the head of state often does not have a set term of office at all; instead, he or she can be taken out of power at any time upon losing the confidence and support of the parliament. However, even in a parliamentary system, some officials who serve a particular term may have the amount of time they can hold office limited.

Opponents of Term Limits

Critics in the term limit debate claim that they can be arbitrary and end up preventing the best person for a job from serving in it; at times, experience is more important than fresh perspectives. Constant transition in leadership can stall legislation and public works projects before anyone benefits from them. In fact, over the history of the United States, term limits have, at times, been relaxed in order to allow a particularly strong leader to stay in power in a crisis situation, as in the case of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Proponents of Term Limits

Proponents in the term limit debate argue that they ensure a wider range of perspectives in government and prevent power from being consolidated in one person, which could easily happen due to the popularity or privilege of a particular individual. Term limits offer an automatic check on consolidation of power.

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