Cherilyn Eagar: Term Limits? Not a one word answer.

Two nights ago, in a candidate forum, a question was asked, “Term Limits. In one word, yes or no, do you support an amendment?” The candidates were then asked to raise their hands. All Senate candidates raised their hands except one: Cherilyn Eagar.

If I had been given the opportunity to speak to that subject, I would first have said that a sound bite on term limits would yield a response I could not give, and for good reason. We live in a sound bite world and that is partly to blame for the term “politician” because we are reduced to statements that bring applause but which, in practice, will bring poor outcomes, and sometimes worse than what we presently have.

My position on term limits is this:
I oppose a term limit amendment because it will give us unintended consequences that will be worse. I support other remedies that will be easier to accomplish and more quickly and which will strike at the core of the problem: follow the money.

I am as concerned as others with the difficulty in removing elected officials from office that cannot be removed. First, let’s analyze the results that are in from states that already have adopted term limits. Here are the results: musical chairs and cronyism with runaway bureaucracies in state agencies. We can expect no less at the federal level if we act to impose a term limit amendment. The fourth branch of government – agencies and departments not enumerated in Article I Section 8 of the constitution are a major part of what is going wrong.

Furthermore, the desire for a term limit amendment is something I have weighed heavily over the years. I must ask, “What is the reason we all desire to have an elected official’s term limited?” For me, it is because we have a 90% incumbency rate. In effect, we have the Incumbent Party. In 2010, there is a strong “kick the bums out” sentiment. As a grassroots candidate, this cuts deeply into my own reasons for running and getting to Washington to change things up.

What is going wrong? In my view, Washington is run by federal agencies and bureaucracies whose wheels keep on spinning from one administration to the next. It didn’t matter whether it was America 2000, Goals 2000 or No Child Left Behind, they were all federal proposals over education, and I agree with Reagan that the Department of Education ought to be dismantled.

It is also run by lobbyists seeking favors from the government for their pet projects or to protect their corporation from federal regulation. This in turn creates the need for campaign contributions and back room deals, realized in pork earmarks, dropped into bills and unread, sometimes by the thousands.

A cut-back and phase out of those agencies, especially those which are duplicated at the state level would solve the problem of an encroaching federal government. Ending over-regulation of the private market and the current merging of private enterprise with government would also go a long way to solving not only the problem of incumbency and the back room deals and paybacks between elected officials and campaign donations, it would also reduce the demographic in D.C. that controls inside the Beltway: lobbyists. Corporations routinely fund both sides of the aisle, hedging their bets, a source of corruption. For example, Energy Solutions funded Bob Bennett about $50,000 last summer then a week later turned around and funded Harry Reid. That is wrong and that is part of the reason why incumbents are so difficult to remove. That will only stop when our elected officials begin to limit their powers to Article I Section 8 of the constitution and allow the free market to work, along with giving the states their states’ rights.

An additional problem is that of seniority. Seniority is to the Senate as tenure is to the teacher. There must be a way to stop the authority of a senior senator being automatically perked or placed in leadership roles.

That can easily be resolved with a rule to have up and down elections for committee chairs and leadership. A committee chair position could be rotated randomly, as the chair’s role is to be the facilitator of the meeting and does not require expertise by virtue of longevity. I prefer the election option.

Finally, follow the money. I support transparency and earmark reform. If we put earmarks through a committee hearing process, separate them out from the bills individually for review, and if they are scrutinized as to their constitutional standing, and if an open and fair bidding process is followed for private contracts, then much of what we are frustrated about with incumbency will disappear.

The bottom line for me is that we take action that will not have unintended consequences. The popularity of the “term limit” response is going to cause more damage than it intends to create.

If we happen to elect an official that we like, the voters should have the opportunity to keep that person in. As for myself, I would prefer to serve only two terms. If I can’t get accomplished what I would hope to in 12 years, I should pass the baton to another candidate. It is up to the voters to be informed and to exercise their right to limit the terms of their representatives: at the ballot box. But to be required to answer this question in one word is precisely what gives us the wrong kinds of elected officials: those who are willing to get behind a sound bite and who haven’t thought it through deeply enough.


Cherilyn Eagar
U.S. Senate 2010


Cherilyn Eagar for U.S. Senate – Principles for a Change

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