Term Limits In Iowa: A Policy Proposal

Cronstal 1st yearIOne of my favorite self-coined terms is “legi-saurs”.  As you may guess it refers to politicians at all levels of government who get elected–and then never go away.

Like many on the right I am convinced this semi-permanent presence in the halls of power is a destructive one in politics.  These careers start innocently enough.  The member actually has a job in the private sector, lives as a normal citizen, and regardless of ideology brings fresh ideas and solutions to the table.  But in most cases, over time, they eventually detach from the economy by not working  outside the Capitol, they develop grudges against their colleages, their ideas and thinking become stale, and they learn to play the legislative process like a game.

Here in Iowa

This happens at all levels in both Parties and unsurprisingly Iowa is not immune.  Our current six Federal representatives have an average of 19 1/2 years in office, with both our Senators having 39 years each.  While on average the Iowa Legislature isn’t as bad, looking through our current Senate reveals several examples of a certain timeless creature…legi-saurs.  For whatever reason this phenomenon in Iowa is more popular among Democrats, with the longest serving Republicans being elected in 1993 (Hubert Houser and Sandy Greiner).  This doesn’t hold a candle to the imperial reign of the 5 longest serving Iowa Democrats–one of which who has been serving for 40 years.  Here’s the list:

  • Bob Dvorsky – since 1987
  • Jack Hatch – since 1985 (out of office 93′ to 01′)
  • Mike Gronstal – since 1983
  • Dennis Black – since 1983
  • Wally Horn – since 1973!

I’m not going to go through all the arguments and counter-arguments for term limits here– I think we all know them (for=incumbency offers name ID, party infrastructure, media coverage, a donor base, special interest money etc. and against=”we have term limits…they are called elections”).  I will say however that the best question to ask someone who opposes term limits is, “So you support removing them for Presidency I assume?”–I’ve yet to hear anybody ever answer “yes”.

A Proposal

Below is a proposal released last week and co-written by both a current Republican and a Democrat serving in the U.S. House.  It is meant to be applied at the Federal level, but it would essentially work the same here in Iowa.  It is superbly well thought out, simple in nature, plainly written, makes the case for why term limits are needed, and offers a realistic way to make it happen.

I vote Yes!


Finally, A Bi-Partisan Solution on Term Limits

Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) written with Congressman Beto O’Roarke (D-TX)

Many in our country and in the districts we represent feel that Congress is out of touch and that members are more focused on re-election than on providing real solutions to our nation’s biggest challenges. We hear from constituents all the time that there is a lack of urgency and focus when it comes to solving our country’s toughest issues like tackling the deficit and putting policies in place that will lead to economic growth.

The two of us, freshman members from different parties with divergent views on many issues, have come together because we believe a healthy debate is warranted on how we best serve the American people and whether, in a time of enormous powers of incumbency and multi-million dollar campaigns for Congress, we can be better public servants and curb the corrupting influence of money and power by limiting a member’s term in office.

Public opinion in favor of term limits for members of Congress is unquestionable. A Gallup poll released this past January reflects the same trend seen year after year from countless reputable research firms. Overall, 75 percent of American adults responding to the survey were in favor of implementing term limits and the support is unanimous across party lines.

That support stands in stark contrast to the overall approval rating of Congress, which hovers somewhere around 15 percent. Despite the unpopularity of Congress as a whole, sitting members still win re-election about 90 percent of the time due to the overwhelming benefits of incumbency. A system that rewards poor performance with job security is clearly in need of a shake-up. Congressional term limits could be the change needed to steer the institution back in the right direction.

Our proposal is a simple constitutional amendment. It does not prescribe the number of terms a member can serve; rather, it gives Congress the constitutional authority to pass and implement term limits. The reason for this structure is that by taking away the details from the amendment process, the likelihood of passage increases. We believe that even members who are philosophically opposed to term limits would support a constitutional amendment providing the legislative branch with the ability to debate and vote on the issue.

Despite widespread popularity, congressional term limits are incredibly difficult to implement because doing so requires a constitutional amendment with two-thirds of both chambers as well as ratification by three-fourths of America’s state legislatures. Having super majorities agree on the details of term limits, including the exact number of terms, is nearly impossible. Since 1995, there have been several attempts to move specific term limits amendments, but all have ended right where they began by being voted down in the House.

Previous term limit efforts have also failed because the only people who can begin the process to impose term limits are those who will be most affected – incumbent members of Congress. By voting in favor of, or even publicly supporting a term limits amendment, a member of Congress can be exposed to charges of hypocrisy or disingenuousness if they don’t also voluntarily limit their term of service. This has a chilling effect on those who would otherwise support term limit efforts.

Congress owes the American people action on term limits, including a new approach that actually stands a chance of becoming law. Our approach provides the flexibility needed to enact term limit laws by a simple majority and to allow future generations to decide the term limit law that works best for them through the regular legislative process.

For far too long, Congress has failed to give the people what they clearly want. We should pass this amendment and finally put that power in their hands.

Jim Bridenstine represents the First District of Oklahoma


About the Author

Mr. Arnold is a long time constitutional conservative. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Literature from the University of Iowa. Over the last few years he has been involved in numerous political campaigns, most recently serving as campaign manager for an Iowa House candidate and serving as a city chair for Tom Latham. He is self-employed, running a small business in Ankeny, Iowa where he resides with his wife.


RSS Feed for This Post3 Comment(s)

  1. Annie Bonneau | May 20, 2013 at 9:09 am | Reply

    A great proposal! This would be the quickest way to improve government functionality in general.

  2. King of SNARK | May 20, 2013 at 10:10 am | Reply

    Hatch has not served consecutively, as he left the Iowa House in 1993, then was elected back to the Iowa House in 2000 before being elected to the Iowa Senate in 2002.

  3. Justin Arnold | May 21, 2013 at 9:14 am | Reply

    To “King of Snark”- Thanks for the clarification on Jack Hatch. It has been noted above.

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