Congressmen rank at the very bottom of people considered trustworthy and ethical, tied with car salesmen at 8 percent. The 2019 Gallup poll revealed similar results with previous surveys. We recognize too many Congressional officials tell us one thing here at home, then go to Washington only to vote along party lines.
A large percentage of us believe congressional representatives feed too long at the public trough. There was cheering when House Speaker Tim Moore introduced legislation calling for congressional term limits. Nearly 80 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of independents and 68 percent of Democrats support the idea, according to a McLaughlin and Associates poll.
If I were a cynic, I might think Moore wanted to term limit longstanding Democrats in our congressional delegation. After all, Democrat David Price has served 24 years and Democrat G.K. Butterfield has 17 years in Congress. But Republican Virginia Foxx has 16 years of service, as does Patrick McHenry. It’s not just a partisan move.
North Carolina can pass all the legislation it wants, but it won’t change constitutionally set term limits. There are only two ways to make changes to the US Constitution. The first is for Congress to propose such an amendment and have the respective states vote on and approve the issue. Nobody thinks that’s going to happen with term limits. The other, is to have a majority of states call for a Convention of States, known as an Article V convention.
The idea of a Convention of the States sounds appealing, but there is a really big downside. Once convened, all sorts of mayhem could break out. We could see proposals on presidential election by popular vote, abortion amendments or you name it. Our founders worried about such things and deliberately made it hard to amend the Constitution.
But a good idea is a good idea. Legislators can’t change federal term limits, but applying the “physician heal thyself” proverb, they should look at term limits for North Carolina elected officials. Those forming our state government never figured we would see politicians serving 20 or 30 years in office, especially in the legislature. In the old days a person would serve one or two terms in the Assembly, then return to be a citizen. And none of North Carolina’s founders ever had a notion some would serve in our Assembly so long as to qualify for a legislative pension. The reality is too many serve too long, and not just in the legislature.
We don’t allow our governor and lieutenant governor to serve more than two consecutive four- year terms because we don’t want dynasties to rule. Neither should we allow lengthy terms for lawmakers, especially legislative leadership, yet our recent history shows that’s what has happened. The late Marc Basnight held control over our Senate for 18 years and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger now has 10 years tenure in what many consider the most powerful elected position in our state. House Speaker Tim Moore is the longest-serving speaker in history, with 8 years in charge.
Former House Speaker Joe Mavretic had it right. The first four years in power a speaker or president pro tem works for the people. After that they work for themselves, their friends or special interests.
Many say we don’t need term limits for legislators because theirs is only a part-time job. Power is power. Eight years is long enough. What’s good for the governor is good for the legislator. We need legislative term limits in North Carolina.
Like we said, a good idea is a good idea.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965.