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Mid-Morning Art Thread | Main | Transgender Child-Killer's Manifesto Is Leaked
November 06, 2023

THE MORNING RANT: Term Limits Are Necessary Because Voters Don’t Realistically Have the Capability to Unseat Incumbents in Primary Elections

Vote Here sign.JPG

Term limits are needed for those serving in Congress. I would even argue that term limits are necessary if we are going “to save our precious democracy.”

(Let’s not argue about the technical definition of democracy. I am accepting for argument purposes that “democracy” is a euphemism for a representative government that is elected by its citizens.)

We have reached a point where several of the most powerful leadership positions in Congress have been held in recent years by persons who are clearly no longer mentally fit to govern, yet they are completely untouchable at the polls. Below them in seniority are hundreds more entrenched Representatives and Senators who are unextractable.

There are a great many conservative pundits and thinkers whom I respect that argue against term limits. They make the case that, “We already have term limits, they’re called elections.”

Respectfully, they’re wrong.

It may occasionally be possible to replace an incumbent with someone from another party at the ballot box, but the cards are so stacked against primary challenges to an incumbent that pulling off a win is akin to a 16-seed winning a basketball game in March Madness. It can happen – rarely - but it’s almost impossible.

Above all else, it takes enormous amounts of money to run for Congress. Congressional districts often straddle multiple media markets, and Senate races encompass an entire state. Like water flowing downhill, campaign contributions from those seeking favor with government are going to flow to those in government currently holding that power. The small contributions raised by a primary challenger will almost always be dwarfed by the contributions flowing to the incumbent. A lack of money for the challenger means a lack of media access, which means a lack of public awareness.

Defenders of the status quo will argue that a challenger can start knocking doors and shaking hands. Perhaps a small subset of a district’s neighborhood can be walked. But with each Congressional district now representing over 760,000 residents, the notion that a challenger can knock on every constituent’s door during a campaign is as believable as Santa Claus coming down every chimney on Christmas Eve.

It takes money and media to run for office - something that incumbents also get abundant access to at taxpayer expense. Congressional “franking” privileges allow Congressmen to use taxpayer funds to send mailers and buy media ads to promote what they are doing for their constituents. Here is just one example, but it is done by pretty much everyone in Congress.

“Rule changes open door for lawmakers to rely further on ads funded by taxpayers” [The Hill – 9/15/2022]

A recent television ad from Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who is running in one of the most competitive House districts in the country, was paid for by taxpayer funds.

The ad shows a montage that included Border Patrol vehicles, law enforcement activity and Cuellar’s own photo. Movie-score-like instrumental music plays in the background.

“I continue to secure funding for Border Patrol and law enforcement for more boots on the ground, equipment and technology,” Cuellar says in the ad. “I’m fighting to keep your families safe. I’m Henry Cuellar, representing the best interests in South Texas.”

The ad was paid for through the House’s “franked” communications, which allow members to use official funds for each of their offices on communications to constituents.

It is an uneven playing field for a challenger when the incumbent has this much ability to campaign for free.

Defenders of the status quo will argue that “Americans hate Congress but love their own Congressman.” No, we don’t. However, we can’t afford to: 1) Surrender that Congressional / Senate seat to the other party; and 2) Surrender that Congressman’s seniority.

All 435 members of the House are not equal in power. Again, Congress has rigged it rules such that long-tenured members have much greater power and authority due to seniority. Replacing my 7-term Congressman, who has several plum committee assignments, with a rookie would mean that voters in my district are surrendering representation and influence. Again, voters are not affirming the status quo by continually returning their Representatives to Congress, they are responding as they must by how the rules are currently rigged. Term limits would flush out those with seniority and force the change that 1 district out of 435 cannot change.

Another argument from the anti-term limits crowd is that, “Power will switch to the permanent bureaucracy.” Lawmaking via regulatory power has already been overwhelmingly outsourced to the bureaucracy. Fresh blood in Congress would provide an opportunity to bring in people who might actually challenge the power of the permanent bureaucracy, rather than defend and serve it as the uniparty does now.

A few election cycles ago, farm state Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) were able to flip Democrat Senate seats because their opponents forgot that they were supposed to represent their constituents, not the Washington DC establishment. But Thune and Ernst have been in DC long enough now that they too are openly and actively representing the permanent DC establishment at the expense of their constituents and conservatives. Unfortunately, as discussed here, it would be impossible to beat them in a Republican primary. So the only way for South Dakota and Iowa to replace Thune or Ernst with a Senator that would actually represent them is to vote for a Democrat and then hope to unseat that Democrat in six years.

Opponents of term limits will argue that incumbents are occasionally unseated in primaries. For instance, Liz Cheney, lost her primary re-election.

This actually proves my point. Liz Cheney was elected on her daddy’s name, turned left, aligned herself with Nancy Pelosi to punish Trump and Trump voters, and openly spoke of her contempt for Republican voters. In response, the voters she so openly despised voted her out of office. Most political creatures are smarter than this political nepot, and they don’t go around professing hatred for their voters, but that is what it took to unseat an incumbent in a primary.

But what about Eric Cantor? He was the Republican House Majority Leader when he was defeated in the primary while running for re-election in 2014. This is the “16-seed-beating-a-1-seed” scenario. It can happen, but it is extremely rare, and the establishment was apoplectic at Tea Party Republicans for surrendering all of Cantor’s “leadership,” “expertise,” “seniority,” etc for a movement candidate with no experience and no respect from the establishment.

The same establishment Republicans who mock us for promoting term limits while we continue to re-elect our own incumbent congressman, were blind with rage at us when we actually did throw an entrenched incumbent out during a primary. Suffice it to say, the establishment is using its resources to ensure there will be no more Cantors. Since Cantor’s loss, any candidate challenging an incumbent is quickly smeared as a gadfly and an extremist by those with power and resources. This successfully deters most respectable people from engaging in long-shot primary races against incumbents.

The simplistic belief that access to the ballot renders term limits unnecessary is as idealistically utopian as believing in the benevolent communitarianism of communism, or in the benign anarchy of libertarianism. People who have attained power will seek to retain power, and those in power have weighted the playing field so heavily in favor of incumbency that meaningful turnover cannot happen at the ballot box.

No one should have access to such power indefinitely. We need term limits to force a turnover of those holding power in Congress.

[buck.throckmorton at protonmail dot com]

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posted by Buck Throckmorton at 11:03 AM

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