COMMON SENSE REVISITED*

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PERSPECTIVE: This is the second blog in the Common Sense Revisited* series. The subject matter deals with the failures of our government—Congress and the several presidents that have guided the country over the past thirty five years. The views expressed are neither liberal nor conservative nor an attempt to impeach either political party. There are enough facts to suggest that all share in the debacle that has led this country to its current state. If there is a bias, it’s expressed in these six words—a plague on all their houses.

*title rights reserved

 

 

 

TERM LIMITS— A CALL FOR ACTION

 

My last blog dealt with the indictment of the leadership of our country over the past 30 years, and the action that we the people have to pursue to take the government back from the special interest groups that are running roughshod over the country and its institutions.  The key is to break the hold that the lobbyists have over our elected representatives by reforming the election process through a constitutional amendment which severs those bonds and assures that our elected officials work for the benefit of their constituents.

 

There are several factors that impact the current election process that lead to the need for candidates for public office to rely on third parties to fund their election campaign.  

 

-The cost of a presidential and congressional election campaign is prohibitive. The last presidential campaign cost billions of dollars. Senate campaigns cost millions and House campaigns could cost in the hundreds of thousand of dollars. The estimated cost of the 2010 congressional election is five billion dollars.  These campaigns are funded by contributions, supposedly by the public, but the big contributions are from the special interest groups and the Pac’s they control. And make no mistake; they come attached with an IOU.

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-The election process is too lengthy. Presidential election campaigns begin in the third year of the first term for incumbents seeking reelection, and more than two years before the election for the challengers. Congressional elections have a shorter horizon, since it is difficult to unseat an incumbent that has been entrenched for years or represents a gerrymandered district. The challengers have to raise a disproportionate amount of funds to mount a credible challenge. 

 

-Incumbents have an unfair advantage over challengers. They can use their prominent position to campaign for reelection through free coverage by the media or by dispensing pork through entitlements that waste taxpayer dollars like “the bridge to nowhere.”

 

-Former congressional officials move freely from Congress to firms that lobby the government, allowing them to influence their former colleagues to act favorably on their client’s behalf.  This incestuous relationship results in legislation such as the Enron Amendment and financial services deregulation which added billions to the coffers of big business to the detriment of the consumer. Business has a right to a return on their investment and a right to be heard and petition and have access to Congress, provided that business entities operate within the law, and not through outright fraud and/or the malfeasance of elected officials, at the expense of the electorate.

 

Given these issues, the election process should be reformed as follows;

 

-The president should be limited to serve for one six year term.  A two-term president only effectively serves six years of his eight year term. As evidence, the current administration has delayed the implementation of the cuts to the 2014 budget forecast for two years, in order to take effect after the 2012 presidential election. Past administrations have taken similar steps to postpone what could be unpopular, but needed decisions that could adversely impact their quest for reelection.

 

-Congress should be limited to one six year term for the Senate and one four year term for the House. One sixth of the Senate and one fourth of the House would turn over every year. One term in either house would be the life time limit that an individual could serve.

 

-Federal elections should be funded by the government, with no contributions from the candidate or from third parties. An equal amount of money would be allocated to each candidate to run their campaign as they choose under a strict accounting protocol. Spending on campaigns would be monitored, and any proven violation either pre or post election, would constitute a felony, and result in immediate disqualification, a permanent ban from seeking federal public office, prosecution and incarceration.

 

-Candidates for Congress would be selected by the political parties either by ballot or by appointment. There would be no federal funding for this process.

 

- For presidential candidates, the political parties would select their top two candidates by caucus, from all the candidates that qualify under their party rules. The top two candidates for office in each party would be funded by the federal government in a run-off primary election. For presidential candidates, primary campaigning would begin in February of the election year with a primary vote in June.  The conventions would be held in the July/August timeframe and would be funded by each political party. To qualify for federal funding, a political party would have had to capture at least 15% of the vote in the last presidential election. The lack of incumbents would level the playing field, shorten the primary and election cycles and reduce the cost of elections.

 

 

-Campaigning for presidential elections would begin after the conventions and end on Election Day eve. Campaigning for congressional elections would begin after Labor Day. The candidates would have to adhere to the following minimum requirements: for presidential candidates, there would be eight national televised debates, for the Senate, there would also be eight televised debates emanating from universities located in the state.   For the House, there would be eight town hall debates in the district which they represent. 

 

-Elected officials would not be eligible to be employed (either directly or indirectly) by their former employer for three years after the expiration of their term.

 

-Congressional pay scale should be commensurate with similar jobs in the private sector. However, the candidates should carry no pension benefits or other perks, except for medical insurance to expire six months after the expiration of their term. Pay scale for the Congress should be determined by a compensation board comprised of members from academia, business, state government, and should not exceed the pay scale of a cabinet secretary.

 

This change in the election process requires and amendment to the constitution. Congress, the very same people that have to relinquish power, controls two out of three methods required to initiate a constitutional amendment. The first, and common method requires a 2/3 majority of Congress to propose an amendment, and a ¾ majority of state legislators for approval. This method has been used for all amendments except one. The second method requires a 2/3 majority of Congress to propose, and a convention of ¾ of the states for ratification. This method has only been used once to ratify the 21st amendment.  The only method that doesn’t involve Congress requires a 2/3 majority of the states to call a constitutional convention to propose an amendment and require ¾ of the state conventions or ¾ of the state legislators for ratification. This method has never been used and is fraught with ambiguity, with each state having its own rules to select representatives for the convention.  With all the ambiguity and warts, it’s the only recourse open to the electorate that would not involve the sitting Congress.

 

Such an approach would require a grass roots movement at the state level, to spur the state governing body to call a constitutional convention with the purpose of imposing term limits—a formidable task to convince 34 states to propose the amendment and persuade 39 states to ratify. Only a national movement with tentacles in every state, such as the Tea Party, could assume such a task. In retrospect, the efforts of the Tea Party would have been better spent convincing the states to call for a constitutional convention to address fundamental reform: term limits, balanced budget, and the other issues that need reform, rather than focusing on the election.

 Short of the Tea Party redirecting its focus, the only recourse is a new grass roots movement to address the term limit issue through the constitutional convention path. It would require organizing a Term Limit cell in every state with coordination at the national level. The social networks would be a good vehicle to begin raising awareness, and subsequently spawning the leadership to make it happen. If the social networks were the catalysts that caused major change in the Egyptian government, the power of that medium could just as easily be applied in amending the United States Constitution.

 

The professional politicians would combat the term limit proposal by playing the experience card and argue for multiple terms. There is a term limit bill circulating in Congress to limit both houses of Congress to two terms.  Members are insisting on a minimum of four terms. The argument is that one term would decrease the effectiveness of the Congress by reducing the experience level.  Seeing what all that experience has wrought this country, cleaning house would not be all that traumatic. In any event, the two term limit alternative would not solve the fundamental issues that are causing the problems. With a one term limit, the country would attract a higher level of candidates that would go to Washington for a limited number of years to serve, not to acquire power or wealth, and return home beholden to no one but their constituents and their conscience.

*title rights reserved

 

 

 

 

 

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