Talk of term limits return with congress man’s death

Michael Guido, Managing & Sports Editor

U.S. Rep. Don Young, the longest-serving Republican in congressional history, died March 18 at the age of 88 while returning home to Alaska.

Young, who at the time of his death was serving as the dean of the House, a title bestowed upon the oldest-serving member of the chamber, was as known for his legislative accomplishments and personality as he was for his longevity.

Young first arrived in Congress on March 6, 1973, after winning a special election to be Alaska’s at-large representative.

Before that, Young bounced around elected office in Alaska, holding the title of state senator, state representative and mayor of Fort Yukon. He was elected to in 1964.

In total, Young served 49 years in Congress, which is among the longest tenures of anyone who has served in either the House or Senate.

In the wake of Young’s death, the conversation re-emerged in the American political discourse over whether it is time to consider term limits for elected officials.

While it has been a topic many voters obsess over throughout the decades, it has never been enacted.

While the president can only serve a maximum of eight years in office, members of Congress can serve as many terms as they like, pending the voters’ approval.

In the case of Young, voters approved of him staying in office for 25 terms, and had he lived through this November, it would’ve been his 26th in all likelihood.

Over the years, politicians have run on a pledge to enact a constitutional amendment mandating term limits for members of Congress.

When Republicans ran on the Contract with America in 1994, at the encouragement of Newt Gingrich, the legislative wish-list pledged to enact 12-year term limits for legislators, and the agenda was overwhelmingly popular with voters, delivering the House to the Republicans for the first time in 40 years.

However, even as popular as it was, it did not come to fruition, failing by a vote of 227-204 in the House in 1995. Since then, it has been touted but never acted upon.

This is even as 75% of the population has gone on the record in support of term limits, according to Gallup. Personally, this is an issue I’ve struggled with.

When I was younger and first becoming immersed in the political world, I was a staunch believer in term limits, feeling that it was a necessity to ensure that career politicians did not become the norm.

However, during a class in my senior year of high school, a civics teacher put it bluntly during one classroom discussion; he said, “We already have term limits — it’s called the American people.”

That is something that has always stuck with me; we as the voters do have the power to control whether these politicians have the jobs they crave and want to hold onto.

If we choose not to hold our elected leaders accountable and instead enable them to skirt by doing the bare minimum to stay in office, that is reflective of a society ill-informed and lacking in self-involvement.

From a more practical standpoint, there resides the issue of money in politics, and how it controls the actions of politicians.

To me, until we address the issue of super PACs, dark money and the ever-growing involvement of special interests groups, it doesn’t matter if term limits hold someone beholden to an unethical or immoral group to only 12 years of self-destructive votes and rhetoric in office.

To me, where we can begin to rectify this problem is by holding our politicians accountable.

I believe that when candidates for office say they will limit themselves to a certain amount of time in office, similar to what Sen. Pat Toomey has done here in Pennsylvania, it is our duty to ensure they do not break that pledge.

However, for those who do, it is up to us as the voters to utilize our power as engaged citizens to choose someone more equipped, morally and otherwise, to take the job and do the people’s work.


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