America’s founders never intended politics to be a career. Public service was meant to be a short term civic duty upon which one then returned to private life. In 1776, the maximum service in the Pennsylvania General Assembly was set at “four years in seven.” Similarly, in an October 2, 1779 letter, Thomas Jefferson urged a limitation of tenure “to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office the members of the Continental Congress.” Subsequently, the fifth Article of the Articles of Confederation stated that “no person shall be capable of being a delegate for more than three years in any term of six years.” Benjamin Franklin referred to term limits as “mandatory vacation.” George Mason stated that, “nothing is so essential to the preservation of a Republican government as a periodic rotation.”
And, politics was never meant to be a source of personal profit. About our federal constitution, historian Mercy Otis Warren warned that “there is no provision for a rotation, nor anything to prevent the perpetuity of office in the same hands for life; which by a little well timed bribery, will probably be done . . . .” Likewise, novelist James Fennimore Cooper described the common view that “contact with the affairs of state is one of the most corrupting of the influences to which men are exposed.” With homesteading in Congress and its associated corporate and lobbyist influence made possible by reelection rates that now approach 100%, history has proven these men uncannily prophetic.
As a result of the reforms of the early 1990s, fifteen state legislatures presently have members serving in rotation. In accord with this wise practice, but rather than debating an arbitrary number of terms to limit, we propose simply prohibiting reelection to any particular office until the candidate has occupied himself elsewhere for a period of time equivalent to the term sought. Under this plan, no one will be campaigning for his or her current office while still serving in it thus yielding the most efficient use of time for public benefit. Therefore, there will be no two consecutive terms.
Our object is not to prevent good people from serving, but to prevent politics as a lucrative way of life. With no incumbents, the focus of elected officials will be exclusively on the proper affairs of the people. Enthusiastic freshman will undoubtedly bring a plethora of new ideas to the political arena. As to concerns of maintaining continuity of rules of procedure, these neophytes will surely be balanced by plenty of seasoned statesmen who will find themselves in demand alternating between different offices of public trust and their private professions. Honor, integrity, and competency will be restored to government service.
Adopted on November 13, 2010.