Want Limited Government? Start with Terms (Guest OpEd)

by Patrick Newton, Forward Party NC Director of Candidate Recruitment and Development

The Tar Heel is excited to introduce guest author Patrick Newton this edition. Patrick is part of the leadership team at the recently formed Forward Party NC. We have been discussing with them, among other things, opportunities to help them collect petition signatures to get on the ballot, and the subject of term limits came up. Given that I have yet to meet a Libertarian who is against government limitations, and also understanding that term limits are a nuanced issue with a number of different potential impacts and implications, we asked Patrick to make his case for term limits here. As he states, he is not representative of the Forward Party in this position, nor is this meant to reflect a position of the LPNC either way. Instead, it is meant to spur further conversation and discussion.

Whatever happened to term limits?

Seems we’ve been discussing them for decades. The large majority of voters are FOR term limits, and it is reflected in polling time after time. On the national level, even Ted Cruz sponsored a bill for term limits. I’m sure it will die a slow and painful death, but it’s a bill, which happens… but rarely.

I believe we should build a coalition of North Carolinians to focus on the issue of term limits. There are so many things our political parties, and our citizens, can argue about, while we ignore opportunities to drive change in areas where we all generally agree. What could be an easier place to start than term limits? Right, left, republican, democrat, urban, rural, libertarian - it doesn’t matter (unless you’re authoritarian, but that’s who we want to prevent from holding power). We can all agree we are sick and tired of career politicians and we, the citizens, want to do something about it.

Benefits of Term Limits

If we enacted term limits in North Carolina, it would allow elected officials to actually be… elected officials. Currently, they spend a large amount of their time as candidates, even while in office, where they prioritize re-election over public service. If an elected official was limited to two terms, for example, at least during his/her second term, re-election would not demand all that official’s focus, and we might see people vote based on conscience instead of how the party tells them.

Term limits also create a broadly more fair system. The way the system is setup now, it is very difficult to remove a seated representative. For example:

Imagine the improvements we could realize almost immediately with term limits in NC (and beyond). When a seat is filled by a representative who will be reaching his/her limit at the end of the term, the next election will be a free and open election. This will create space for candidates from NC Libertarians, NC Forwardists, and other parties to participate in an election where there is no incumbent, and will also force Democrats and Republicans to rely more on actual policy position for candidates, not personality and connections.

Then, of course, there is the beautiful result of no more career politicians. For example, NC Representative Mickey Michaux retired a few years ago at the age of 87, after holding office for 35 years. Many North Carolinians believe that is far too long for any one person to hold the same position in our legislature. It is hard to imagine someone like that consistently putting the needs of his constituents above his own and those of his long-time donors, though.

Senior members often secure key committee positions, resulting in the concentration of power and a strong incentive for more junior members to “fall in line.” Meanwhile, these same rookies are left on the outside looking in when it comes to having an impact on policy. If there were term limits the general assembly would be forced to start finding some middle ground. Their power would have limits. It could lead to meaningful dialogue between multiple parties to do what’s in the best interest of everyday North Carolinians.

If you want to really dig into it, Nick Tomboulides does an incredible job of making the argument, addressing the potential objections, and concluding we need term limits in America. Check out his testimony in Congress from a few years ago if you haven’t seen it.

I should point out I am part of the leadership for the North Carolina Forward Party. We are working hard to gather signatures so we can gain ballot access. I want to make it clear the opinions I have shared above are my own, and are not to be considered a statement from the NC Forward Party.

Thank you for taking the time to read this today. I believe there are so many good people in NC who can come together over the things on which we agree and really make a difference in our state. I look forward to having this conversation with you.

If you would like to share your thoughts on term limits in North Carolina, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at [email protected]

If you would like to help the Forward Party collect signatures for ballot access, go here for further instructions.

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