Chris Butler Commentary: Ask Your Tennessee Legislators for a Term Limits Convention

Senators for decades

Without a legal mandate to do so, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is reportedly wondering whether it’s in his best interests to avoid a third term in office and, thus, term limit himself.

If that’s true, then Corker, possibly without meaning to, will do something many other politicians at the federal level have thus far never considered — put the best interests of his constituents ahead of his ego.

As you already know, the problem with career politicians is a pervasive one in Washington, D.C. Our elected officials seemingly keep their feet bolted to the floors of Capitol Hill because they believe no one else can do their jobs.

Do you think I’m exaggerating?

When Arizona voters sent John McCain to the U.S. Senate 30 years ago Atari video games were still a hot commodity. When Thad Cochran of Mississippi assumed his seat in the U.S. Senate in 1978 disco was all the rage, Col. Sanders was still alive, and most people didn’t even own VCR’s.

That’s right.

Cochran’s tenure in the Senate pre-dates and exceeds the mass market’s use of the VCR.

Of course, those men have nothing on Strom Thurmond or Robert Byrd, both of whom served roughly half a century in the U.S. Senate before they both eventually passed away.

These are only a tiny sample of the career politicians who lurk the halls of Congress decade after decade after decade. Longevity has its virtues, but in the District of Columbia longevity is sometimes toxic.

What have we gotten in exchange for sending career politicians to D.C. one election cycle after another?

They start out innocent enough, wanting to do well by their voters.

Eventually, they get sucked into the vortex that is the Washington, D.C. beltway.

They spend more time with D.C. insiders — particularly the lobbyists — than they do their own constituents. They argue Washington’s case to the voters, instead of the other way around.

Members of Congress devote more time to fundraising than legislating, and they ultimately lack the courage to do what’s best for their constituents and their nation.

Come reelection time, lobbyists shower incumbents with money, thus drowning out the voices of any opposing candidates.

Then… wait for it… 90 percent of incumbents get re-elected.

They bail out the big banks.

They lather their wealthy friends with corporate welfare, courtesy of you, the taxpayer.

Despite all their experience, they cannot say they’ve got a good grip on what they’re doing. As of this month, our national debt, for instance, now exceeds $20 trillion.

As Linda Upmeyer, speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives put it, “Dysfunction in Washington puts our nation’s future at risk.”

That’s where term limits come into play.

In 1995 the U.S. Supreme Court said 23 states could not mandate term limits on members of Congress using state laws.

The Founding Fathers may not have seen the need to put term limits in the U.S. Constitution. Through that document, however, they did give us something called Article V. The Founders gave us Article V to have checks and balances on a Congress that had gotten too detached from the folks back home.

Two-thirds of the states can call for an Article V convention to enact term limits. By law, members of Congress must then arrange for a convention of people from those states to draft an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

That amendment would deal with the subject of term limits, and term limits only. Everything at the convention must get done proper and by the book. Otherwise, according to Constitutional scholar Robert G. Natelson, there are “too many politicians, lobbyists, and judges willing to seize on technical mistakes to block amendments they do not favor.”

After the convention, the drafted amendment goes back to the states, and it only becomes part of the Constitution after 38 of those states ratify it.

The Article V concept, however, does not come without its detractors.

Conspiracy talk in certain circles about a runaway convention where people could radically alter the U.S. Constitution is nothing more than a myth, like the Boogey Man, created to frighten people, Natelson said.

Under our system, checks and balances, of course, are a two-way street. If any abuses at the convention were to occur, however unlikely, members of the judicial and legislative branches would put a dead stop to them. That’s a no-brainer.

Assuming members of those two branches of government did nothing — and that’s also a far-fetched scenario — then state legislatures would without a doubt refuse to ratify the amendment.
Term limits is a non-partisan issue, and it’s also not a new concept.

George Washington favored them, as did Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

Ronald Reagan backed them.

Before leaving office last year, Barack Obama defended the concept of term limits as they pertained to a two-term presidency.

“Your country is better off if you have new blood and new ideas,” Obama said.

“Someone with new energy and new insights will be good for my country.”

Obama could easily apply those words to members of Congress, and many Americans would no doubt agree with him. Polls show an overwhelming majority of people want term limits.

The fight begins with you and then goes to members of the Tennessee General Assembly. But to make that happen U.S. Term Limits needs a grassroots coalition of Tennesseans to talk to state legislators and make the case for Tennessee to participate in an Article V convention.

As state director of U.S. Term Limits in Tennessee, I am at the disposal of anyone who wants to help.

If the Founders could communicate with us they would no doubt ask why we haven’t pursued this idea already.


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Christopher Butler is the Tennessee Director of U.S. Term Limits. Contact Chris at [email protected]
To learn more about U.S. Term Limits visit and like Tennessee Term Limits on Facebook

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3 Thoughts to “Chris Butler Commentary: Ask Your Tennessee Legislators for a Term Limits Convention”

  1. 83ragtop50

    If not term limits – which I support – how about limiting campaign funding? Those who are entrenched in their offices typically have a major advantage (in addition to name recognition) in campaigning because of they can retain existing funds and build the war chest from there.

    You present well thought out arguments, but I am prepared to deal with the consequences of the devil I do not know as compared to the very well known devil which is career politicians. I find it difficult to believe that term limits would result in anything worse than we current labor under.

  2. Lucyland

    The voting booth is where term limits happen. Look how much damage one lame duck president can do and does. Imagine a multitude of lame ducks doing damage all over the place because they never have to be held to account again. We surely have a lack of statesmen.

    I can not believe that people are calling for Term Limits for Congress.

    Here are some reasons that this is a bad proposal.

    First off, the Founding Fathers discussed and debated Term Limits when they were drafting the Constitution. Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist, No. 72, “Nothing appears more plausible at first sight, nor more ill-founded upon close inspection.”

    Next, is the issue of a lame-duck congressman, what incentive would they have to follow the Constitution? Would they be easier prey for lobbyists? Do you remember the lame-duck special session of Congress back in 1994, when a lot of congressmen lost their seats, but they came back in November after the election and voted and passed GATT? Most Americans were against this treaty, and the elections had been held already, and the congressmen who were voted out did not have to worry about facing re-election.

    Some say it is too hard to vote out ‘bad’ congressmen. Well remember House Speaker Tom Foley? Yep, voted OUT, beat by a political Novice. House Ways and Means committee chairman, Dan Rostenkowski, voted Out. The voters Term-Limited them!

    Oh and remember the election of 1992, we got 124 NEW freshmen members of Congress… remember the 1994 election, 87 new Representatives and 11 New senators. And the voters did this without term-limits.

    I would even say that term-limits would make some of us lazy. Right now we have a congressman’s voting record to view to see if we want to re-elect them or not. But if there were term-limits, then some might say, well it doesn’t really matter if my congressman is doing bad, he will be term-limited next time anyway. People want a quick fix.

    Another point with term-limits, congressmen will be ‘new’ at the game and will have to rely on their staff more and more. These congressmen’s staff will be in high demand and then staff personnel will start to wield their power, because the congressmen will need them to ‘get things done’. And these office staff are not voted into office by the voters, so we will have no voice in this.

    And if you think there will not be career politicians, you might want to think again. After the politicians make their rounds from the house and perhaps the senate, where will they go? They will look to the executive branch, as there are plenty of federal jobs in the various executive departments. So once the congressman is term limited, he may want to help the current president with a bill or two so that the congressman can get that cushy job.

    And speaking of Term-Limits and the President…. How is that working out for you? We have Term-Limits for Presidents, but has that helped us have better Presidents?

    I think the internet will help us become better voters because we will have the advantage of doing our own research, analysis, and comparison. We will have more dialog with our elected officials and with each other. We can have our own virtual town-hall meetings, our own soap-box and we can help each other stay informed on our current congressman and together hold his feet to the fire.

    But in the long run, I don’t think the issue is Term-Limits, it is a Constitutional Convention. Term-Limits is just a sound-byte that the establishment is trying to hook unthinking voters into wanting to change the Constitution. They have been trying for years to force the states to call a Constitutional Convention. Once is was for Equal Rights, then it was for a Balance Budget, next even a Line-Item veto, now, it is the Term-Limit issue. The laymen here in the trenches are unhappy with the government and term-limits seem to be a ‘easy’ way to fix the problem. Make no mistake about it, they want to rewrite our constitution, and make you think we need just a little change here or there. And remember, those that voted for the current elected officials would vote you a new constitution. Will they vote a better one in than the one we have now? I don’t think so. Don’t Do IT!