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Opinion: With a gray-haired Senate, it’s time to talk about term limits

An engraved illustration of George Washington crossing the River Delaware during the American Revolutionary War, from a Victorian book dated 1886 that is no longer in copyright.

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.

We now have the oldest US Senate in history. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley is 87. California Sen. Diane Feinstein is 88.  It’s time to think again about term limits.

Sadly, many of these people were elected to office when they were actually young, but they have stayed and stayed. Sen. Mitch McConnell, has served as the senior US senator from Kentucky since 1985 — the same year the wreck of the RMS Titanic was located.

Because we have people staying far too long, way past their use-by date, it leads to a consolidation of power, and that leads to corruption.

Some say the best term limits are elections, but we keep sending the same senators back into office. More than over 90% of incumbents win re-election, every election cycle. Passing on to another existence seems to be the only way for people to leave the US Senate these days.

Term limits have to apply to the senator’s staff as well. Otherwise you end up with staff just running everything and members cycling through and that doesn’t change the balance of power or change the way things get done any more than just having the same senators around forever.

Committee assignments

There’s nothing in the Constitution that says committee assignments need to be made based on seniority or how long you have been a member of Congress. Why not make committee assignments based on who’s the most qualified to lead that committee, who has the most expertise or experience?

You have members of Congress who will say: “Voter, you can cast that vote for anybody you want. But if you don’t vote for me, as the 20-year incumbent, you are going to lose power. You are going to lose money. You’re going to lose influence for your state or for your district.”

We actually have a good example of the fallacy of that argument here in Utah.

Whether you like Mitt Romney or not, he has gone in with no committee assignments, no seniority and has had a major influence on a lot of policy discussions and issues because he’s just engaged. He’s gone after it. Romney has shown that you don’t have to be the chairman of a committee to have power and influence

I believe passionately that the founders saw service in Washington, D.C., as seasonal. You gave it your all for a season, couple of years at most, then you moved on.

The fallacy of the indispensable

As a business consultant, I would engage with organizations and they would reply, “Oh you know, Mary is absolutely indispensable. We would fall apart without Mary.”

And that was always a red flag for me because it either showed the organization was too reliant on one individual or the company had gotten too comfortable with a certain way of doing business. When members of Congress start to believe that they are indispensable and irreplaceable, that’s a problem.

Follow Gen. Washington’s example

I’ve always said that the one national holiday we’re really missing in the country is Dec. 23. On that day in 1783, George Washington — having led and won the Revolutionary War — resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, marking first time in the history of the world that the commanding general of a victorious army did not assume absolute power. 

Gen. Washington knew his work was seasonal. He also knew the power belongs to the people. And we need to celebrate and emulate that more often than we do.

To this day, civilian command of the military is a hallmark of American democracy.

Enacting term limits in the House and Senate is going to require us, We the People, to lead that conversation because nobody else is ever going to make that happen inside the walls of Congress.



Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.