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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Term limits needed for public office

Published: November 7, 2014
Section: Opinions

Some sad news came across the airwaves last week when former Boston mayor Thomas Menino passed away from cancer. The city’s longest serving mayor, Menino was one of the great American politicians and led Boston into the 21st century like no one else could. He led the city through one of its greatest tragedies, the Marathon bombings of 2013, and invoked the spirit of “Boston Strong” through his words and leadership afterwards.

Yet one of the few knocks you could make on Menino was how he continued to run for mayor although he claimed at the beginning of his administration he would only run for two terms. He eventually served five. With the recent midterm elections, certainly terms are on the minds of many, as long-running incumbents continue to win elections based solely on name recognition and local network that aids them tremendously in reassuring their elections. People like Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senator from Kentucky, continue to run for office and win, although they’ve grown disillusioned with and disinterested in the actual problems facing their constituents. It also prevents new ideas that a 72-year-old man would never agree with from reaching the Senate floor and keeps the country behind.

McConnell, the butt of many of Jon Stewart’s jokes, just won his sixth term as a U.S. senator and doesn’t seem to be on the verge of retirement anytime soon, nor does it seem like he is ever in danger of losing his seat. The process of democracy is thus severely corrupted when senators and representatives are allowed to keep running. Voters grow disillusioned with the process and won’t show up to the polls when they know the same candidate will win each election, and the actual candidate is never actually accountable for his voting record or decisions in office.

For Congress, there should absolutely be term limits on offices so that at least some new ideas are brought into the halls of the Capitol every 10 years or so, and that the senators and representatives actually do their jobs and try to invoke change through their position of power. There’s a reason why term limits exist in the first place—so that those in charge don’t gain too much power and change the course of the country. This is what we risk when we let people like Mitch McConnell, or Nancy Pelosi, who has served as a representative from California for 13 two-year terms, continue seeking office. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg changed the city’s constitution to allow himself to run for a third term in 2009, which he won, completely making a mockery of the democratic process. The same, tired faces get the check mark on John King’s big board on election night, and it’s a discredit to our country to let it happen.

Although we might lose out on actually decent and positive politicians like Menino by imposing term limits for both federal and state offices, there are simply too many bad seeds to not do it. For every Menino in public office, there’s at least 20 McConnells or Pelosis who are essentially keeping the country in gridlock. And it’s not like a politician like Menino would be prevented from still being in the public eye and doing just as much good as he did from the mayor’s office. In fact, he might have been more apt to take on new causes and spend more time on them without having to keep the formalities of his office if he wasn’t allowed to continue running for mayor. It is the incumbents we need to weed out of office. They simply have too much power and security in their jobs to actually be productive, and term limits are the simplest way to clear the garden.