Last week Sens. Warren Daniel (R-Burke County), Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg) and Ronald Rabin (R-Harnett County) filed a bill (SB 817) to change legislators’ terms from two to four years. The bill also limits the number of consecutive terms that legislators could serve to four. (There currently are no limits.)
The bill’s authors say that lengthening terms from two to four years would give legislators more time to concentrate on policy rather than fundraising, which can be a constant task for most legislators in the current two-year cycle.
Is SB 817 a good idea? Yes and no. There are two ideas at play here: lengthening terms and limiting terms. Constant fundraising is a reality for most politicians. While I sympathize with legislator sentiments for limiting fundraising, will lengthening a legislative term to four years mean legislators will only raise money for two years? I doubt it. You might even say that SB 817 gives legislators two more years to raise money. As such the bill may only increase the huge advantages that incumbents already enjoy.
I used to think elections were the best form of term limits. However, elections work best when the playing field is level, something it currently isn’t. These realities have helped me cozy up to the idea of term limits. We can think of many reasons why legislatures should have regular infusions of fresh perspectives from the outside. I can support term limits. However, I can’t support legislation that lengthens a term and then limits the number of consecutive terms that one can serve to four. Sixteen years is simply too long. Lengthening terms to limit them? It’s an idea at war with itself.
The founders never intended elected office to be a career for anyone. Public service was always meant to be offered for a specific term and then individuals would return to their chosen profession and private life.
The perils of constant fundraising and a seniority-based legislative system pose problems for lawmakers and the public, as does a system that offers few guarantees that fresh perspectives are heard. The authors of SB 817 identify some of those problems. Unfortunately, the bill offers little to redress any of the problems it raises.