Elected for life

It is no secret that incumbents have a huge advantage when it comes to reelection. From name recognition and the ability to provide constituent services, to access to larger war chests and the electorate’s tendency to stay with the “devil you know,” it is a rare thing for an incumbent to lose a reelection bid. So, while I am pleased to see Ronald Mitchell is planning to challenge Rep. Jim Moran (D) in a primary election for the 8th Congressional District, I do not like his chances.

I signed Mitchell’s petition to run for election yesterday and told him I wished him luck.

Moran is currently serving his 10th term in office despite repeated scandals including accusations that he got in a fight with an 8-year-old boy and a highly questionable personal loan. Yet, time and time again, voters, myself included, return him to Washington. Incumbents are reelected to office at least 90 percent of the time.

One solution is term limits. Such a change would require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate. According to John C. Armor, author of “Why Term Limits? Because They Have It Coming,” for the first century of this nation the average turnover for those in Congress was roughly 43 percent. In recent decades incumbents have been less and less likely to voluntarily not seek reelection.

Term limits would reduce the influence of special interests and pork barrel spending, combat corruption, and provide a starting point for real change. Of course we have no one to blame but ourselves. When we go into the election booth, or when we stay at home and don’t vote, we are the ones responsible for enabling career politicians. That said, the two-party system, the pitiful attention given to primary elections, and the expense of launching a campaign also play a sizable role.

Efforts to put term limits in place surface from time to time. Shortly after the November elections Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) was among a handful of senators pushing to limit service in the Senate to 12 years, or two terms, and to limit service in the House to six years, or three terms. A similar measure, one that would have limited service to 12 years for all member of Congress, was attempted in 1995. Perhaps this time around Congress will put the needs of the people above their own interests. Until then we need more candidates to challenge incumbents head-on, no matter how low the odds of success.

–By Jennifer E. Cooper