Term Limits: The Enemy Is Us

Forget the president. He doesn’t introduce and pass laws. Congress does.

And Americans’ approval of Congress was 16% in September, according to analytics from Gallup News. The last time it was lower was in July 2016, at 13%.

That’s 1.6 people out of 10 surveyed who are satisfied with the way their Congressional representatives are conducting business and, in some cases, themselves.

Recent debate about solutions among friends and others in person and in social media has focused on term limits as a prescription for the polarized partisan politics in federal government and in some states.

The logic somewhat follows the old axiom that “power corrupts. . .” People in power become seduced by and addicted to the power. No longer citizen-representatives as envisioned by the framers of the Constitution, but professional politicians whose sole objective is to win the next election at whatever cost or price.

The result is officials who become isolated from, out of touch with and ignore constituents.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Ron De Santis (F-FL) filed a Constitutional amendment in January 2017 – roughly three weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration – to fulfill the president-elect’s commitment to put “government back to work for the American people. . . . to put an end to the cronyism and deceit that has transformed Washington into a graveyard of good intentions.”[1]

A term-limits measure was rejected by the Senate Aye 24-Nay 75 in 2012. A Gallup poll from 2013 found that 75 percent of Americans support term limits on Congress.

One person in my debate circles suggested that “Incumbent” was a huge advantage in voters’ minds. Arguably, voting for an incumbent is a powerful time-saving defense mechanism which protects the voters from having to be attentive, thoughtful, acquiring, assimilating and evaluating information to make an informed decision.

Another argued that “incumbent” should inherently be a huge disadvantage in the minds of voters. Presumably, an incumbent shouldn’t and wouldn’t be re-elected in the absence of subjective and substantive information and data that the representative had been receptive to and represented the voters’ agendas and wishes.

That, said third, would result in de facto term limits: elected officials’ terms would be limited by voters based on performance.

The problem is that we voters may “have seen” but not recognized the enemy, “which is us.” Interestingly, Walt Kelly wrote that phrase in a balloon over Pogo’s head in a 1970 anti-pollution poster for Earth Day.

It doesn’t take a giant leap to equate the pollution in the Okefenokee Swamp with the pollution on Capitol Hill in 2017.

We voters haven’t imposed terms limits at the ballot box. When we do, it’s often for the wrong reason.

I’ve voted in 12 presidential elections since 1972 in five different states: California, Florida, Ga, Tennessee and Texas. Twenty-year-olds couldn’t vote in 1968, even if in the military in Vietnam. I’ve voted in 11 off-year elections in four of those five states and in Louisiana.

One of the most effective Congressmen who represented the 12th Congressional district in which I lived was John Barrow (D-GA), “the last white Democrat from the Deep South in Congress,[2]

Barrow was targeted for defeat by Republican strategists from the time he was first elected.

“It’s no secret that John Barrow has been the NRCC’s No. 1 target for cycle after cycle, and 2014 was no exception,” (NRCC spokesman Daniel) Scarpinato said.[3]

Barrow was ultimately defeated in his 2014 bid for re-election,[4] 55% to 45%, which paralleled the statewide defeats of Democrats Michelle Nunn, the U.S. Senate candidate, and Jason Carter, the gubernatorial hopeful.

It’s as if Elmer Fudd finally shot Bugs Bunny, and nailed his pelt to the barn door. After gunning for him for a decade, forcing him to move from Athens to Savannah to Augusta (to remain a resident of his district due to redistricting by the GOP-controlled Georgia Assembly), packing his district with more and more GOP-leaning voters, Republicans have finally defeated the wascally wabbit that is U.S. Rep. John Barrow.[5]

It’s a political footnote that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t require a member of the House of Representatives to live within his or her district’s boundaries. Nearly two dozen (5.5%) of the members in the current 435-member House live outside of their congressional districts.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) made an initial $800,000 television contribution to target Barrow and Barrow’s district was one of the first where the NRCC started airing ads. The NRCC targeted Barrow with more than $2.5 million television and radio ads.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH), Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) and NRCC Chairman Greg Walden made trips to the district to help Barrow’s opponent raise cash. 

“It’s no secret that John Barrow has been the NRCC’s No. 1 target for cycle after cycle, and 2014 was no exception,” (NRCC spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. “That’s why the NRCC went up on TV in this district before any other in the country, and devoted staff and resources to winning. By working as a team with Rick Allen and his campaign, we were finally able to knock Barrow down.” 

But the GOP’s candidate had trouble raising money. Republicans felt burned by previous Barrow challengers, and GOP operatives said donors were reluctant to open their wallets again. 

Barrow’s war chest was $1.9 million — “a large sum of money to put behind his famously folksy ads.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association — which usually support Republicans — stuck by Barrow. The chamber spent $400,000 to support his re-election. 

Barrow’s opponent dumped $900,000 of his own personal fortune into the race.[6]

What was the Georgia voters’ reason for imposing a “term limit” on Barrow? Inefficiency? Absenteeism? Malfeasance or misfeasance? Adultery? Bribery? Unethical behavior? Indictment? Treason?

It was because he was a Democrat and the NRCC wanted him out.

It had nothing to do with his performance or capabilities.

What Georgia voters did was throw out a five-term Congressman with seniority for an inexperienced replacement who didn’t win on his own merit, but because the NRCC and the Georgia GOP wanted Barrow out.

He served on the House Intelligence committee as a permanent member, and the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.[7]

Barrow sponsored or co-sponsored 1,302 bills in the areas of Government Operations and Politics (21%) Armed Forces and National Security (18%) Economics and Public Finance (14%) Taxation (14%) Labor and Employment (11%) Crime and Law Enforcement (7%) Health (7%) Transportation and Public Works (7%).[8]

As a respected political researcher and commentator with more than 20 years of experience in Georgia state and national politics observed, the voters made a costly mistake.

John Barrow was defeated by a Republican machine which saw District 12 in Georgia as no more than a mark on the “Us” vs. “Them” House of Representative tally sheet.

Barrow didn’t argue issues from a partisan base. And didn’t hesitate to cross the aisle when it was important to do so, like John McCain.

He campaigned door-to-door, on the street corner. He visited every county. And knew his constituents.

He kept the voters informed. Was visible. He and his staff were accessible. And he was gracious to everyone.

He had a VA clinic established in Statesboro for the area’s veterans so they could have VA support without a two-hour drive, all without fanfare.

“We have seen the enemy and it is us” when it came to Barrow’s term limit. Or with others whose terms the voters fail to limit.

And then there’s two-term U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) who announced September 26 that he will not seek reelection in 2018.

Corker, who has been a key player on foreign policy as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and “both a staunch defender and critic of President Donald Trump” said, “When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms. Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen-legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me. I also believe the most important public service I have to offer our country could well occur over the next 15 months, and I want to be able to do that as thoughtfully and independently as I did the first 10 years and nine months of my Senate career.”

If there were a Framers of the Constitution Award for the Congressperson who best personified the intent of the country’s founders for the expected role of the citizen-model, I’d vote for Corker.

If all our elected representatives – who are just that – felt and behaved the same way, “term limits” would be moot.

[1] Ted Cruz and Ron DeSantis officially propose term limits amendment. (Jan 4, 2017 10:33 am). Gonzales, S. the blaze. Retrieved from http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/01/04/ted-cruz-and-ron-desantis-officially-propose-term-limits-amendment/.

[2] After years of trying, Republicans finally nail John Barrow. (November 5, 2014). Galloway, J. Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved from http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2014/11/05/after-years-of-trying-republicans-finally-nail-john-barrow/.

[3] How Republicans Caught Their White Whale: John Barrow. (Nov 10, 2014 5:00 AM). Cahn, E. Roll Call. Retrieved from https://www.rollcall.com/news/election-results-2014-john-barrow-rick-allen.

[4] After years of trying, Republicans finally nail John Barrow. (November 5, 2014). Galloway, J. Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved from http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2014/11/05/after-years-of-trying-republicans-finally-nail-john-barrow/.

[5] After years of trying, Republicans finally nail John Barrow. (November 5, 2014). Galloway, J. Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved from http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2014/11/05/after-years-of-trying-republicans-finally-nail-john-barrow/.

[6] How Republicans Caught Their White Whale: John Barrow. (Nov 10, 2014 5:00 AM). Cahn, E. Roll Call. Retrieved from https://www.rollcall.com/news/election-results-2014-john-barrow-rick-allen.

[7] Representative John Barrow. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/ybfnb4tz.

[8] Representative John Barrow. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/member/john-barrow/B001252.

Advertisements

Published by

Dr. Nick De Bonis

"Life's what happens when you're busy making other plans." John Lennon. Life happenings have been almost overwhelming the past year, not all of them positive. Empty nest, boomerang kids, job changes, a new grandchild, and the usual Roseanne Roseannadanna homeowners' lament, "It's always something." It certainly provides one with anticipation for what each day will hold. As my grandfather used to reply when someone would say, "Good to see you, Claude," it's good to be seen, given the alternative. :-{) DB

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s