Lugar, Mourdock, and Term Limits
On Tuesday, I mentioned the Republican primary election in Indiana, specifically the Senate race there. Longtime incumbent Richard Lugar was facing the possible end to his tenure in the Senate. The election results Tuesday evening brought a smile to my face as Lugar reached the end of his career as a senator. Since Lugar has been in the Senate for six terms, the topic of term limits was brought up by several friends.
It’s easy to see how the argument for term limits would sound good, especially when you consider how terrible Lugar was and how he managed to be re-elected all those years; but reasons against term limits still outweigh the reasons for them.
We don’t really need term limits in the House because unbeatable incumbents aren’t really a problem in the House. Sure, there are some people who have been in the House for a long time, but there’s less of a chance for a Congressman to get out of touch with his district because he is up for re-election every two years. And if he does get Beltway Syndrome, a campaign to beat him on the district level is much easier to do than a statewide race would be.
The problem is in the Senate, where senators only answer to the public once every six years. That also means they don’t have to spend money to get re-elected very often, so they can safely build a re-election fund for six years. Voters’ short-term memories plus senators’ large war chests combine for problems like having Dick Lugar in office for a third of a century.
The best way to address the issue of term limits isn’t an amendment to the Constitution; the best way is to repeal the 17th Amendment and let senators be determined by state legislatures. It would take the large election funds out of the picture almost entirely while keeping senators responsible to the states’ best interests.
Of course, getting the Senate to vote to eliminate what protects their political power isn’t going to happen anytime soon. For now, we have to rely on candidates like Richard Mourdock to challenge the Lugars in the Senate.
What we saw this week tells us that primary election victories over a longterm incumbent are possible. It takes the right mixture of a bad voting record and outraged voters along with a big pile of money, but it’s possible.
And since the 17th Amendment isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, the news out of Indiana this week is very good news.