Did you ever consider that you have to pass a test to be a doctor, a lawyer, a CPA or a school teacher; but, any fool on the street can become a senator or congressperson if they can talk enough people into voting for them?
Our legislative body was set up almost two hundred and fifty years ago. Our founders believed in the rights of the individual, but they also believed that the people needed a benevolent, sage group of men to guide them. Illiteracy among the people was the norm and communication and transportation between colonies took weeks and sometimes months. Our founders were opposed to royalty but unknowingly they were creating a royal class.
Both Franklin and Jefferson realized that access to power tends to corrupt politicians and both men supported term limits for officials.
Just as Franklin and Jefferson feared, our Legislative Branch has an old-boy network which is composed of members whose primary concern in reelection. What other small group of people have the power to vote in their own pay raises, decree their own term limits (none) and lock the government into a two party system? Strom Thurman was a senator for 48 years, finally dying while still in office at age 100. Ted Kennedy was in office for 47 years. This is the type of service that locks-in and guarantees the old-boy network. A career as a Senator or Congressman is the best job in town. It is a stepping stone to power, wealth and privilege. It is a coronation to American royalty.
At present senators are elected for six year terms and representatives for two years. Their salaries range upward from $174,000 a year. There is per diem, dislocation pay, foreign travel allowance, domestic travel allowance, office expenses for two offices and allowance for aides and staffers. Legislatures vest in a retirement after five years. They get to choose civil service or government employees retirement systems and health insurance coverage. Their retirement can be up to 80% of their salaries – determined by length of service.
An eight year term limit would change this. It would attract people who desire to serve the public and are willing to make changes for the good of the people. The election to the legislative branch should offer an adequate salary and prestige, but not retirement benefits. It could benefit the people willing to commit to service by returning them to civilian life with an impressive resume. By rotating people in the Legislative Branch we could break the mindset of business as usual and oust the old white men who have controlled and manipulated our government for their own purposes for so many years. The focus would change from getting reelected to serving the people. The Catch-22 is - that the only way we could decree a term limit would be for the Legislative Branch to enact it as law – and they are not about to do that.
In the early 1990’s there was a move by some states to institute term limits for their members of Congress and the Senate. A law suite instituted by legislatures (including Tom Foley, ousted Speaker of the House) against term limits made its way to the Supreme Court. In 1995 the Court ruled term limits unconstitutional. (US Supreme Court ruled term limits unconstitutional in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 (May 22, 1995).
Now, the only way for term limits to be instituted would be by an act of Congress. Fat chance for that…
Now let’s move on the other big lie.
As Americans we are brought up to believe that we sustain our democracy through the process of one person one vote. In the Presidential election this is an allusion: the President is elected not by popular vote but by the Electoral College (the old boy network.) It has happened, as recently as Bush that a president was elected that did not receive the majority vote of the people. How wrong is this? In this technological age tabulating the vote of the people is not rocket science. Why do we need an Electoral College if not to allow an avenue for the old-boy network to manipulate the vote?
When we, as Americans, cast our vote for a presidential candidate we are actually casting our vote for electors. Article II of the Constitution requires an Electoral College. The idea of the College was to give states with a smaller population an equal weight in Presidential elections. Also, Congress did not trust the common man to make an informed decision. Each state has one electoral vote corresponding to its number of senators and congressmen. There are five hundred and thirty eight electoral voters and two hundred and seventy are required for a win.
Major political parties may select their electors at their party convention or they may be appointed by party leaders. Here lies the problem: the electors are not required to vote as their state popular vote indicates and their collective votes do not correspond to the percentage of votes cast for each candidate. In the 2000 Presidential election Al Gore won by more than a half million popular votes but George Bush ended up elected to the presidency (with the help of the Supreme Court) by an electoral vote of 271 to 266. Who are these electors that supposedly cast our vote? Most Americans will never know.
Article II, Section I, Clause II of the Constitution states:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
Changing this system would require a Constitutional Amendment. The old white men who wield the powers in our government and political parties would loose their influence if a Popular Vote Amendment were enacted – and they control the direction of legislation in our House and Senate.
Again, a circular outcome and self-fulfilling expectation comes from a Legislative Body without term limits.
The next BLOG will deal with the selling of our government (Citizens United Ruling,) line item veto and balanced budget.