Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Populist Ideas Also Defined 1st Term-Limits Debate

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Populist Ideas Also Defined 1st Term-Limits Debate

Article excerpt

FROM THE BEGINNING of our republic, the debate over term limits for Congress has been expressed in populist terms.

Some opponents of ratifying the Constitution argued for a rotation system for members of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Without such a system, wrote one, "There is no doubt that senators will hold their office perpetually; and in this situation, they must of necessity lose their dependence, and their attachments to the people."

Those defending the Constitution made many of the same points as term-limits opponents do today.

"The power under the Constitution will always be in the People," said George Washington. ". . . Whenever it is executed contrary to their Interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their Servants can, and undoubtedly will be, recalled."

The amendment to the Arkansas constitution struck down this week by the Supreme Court began: "The people of Arkansas find and declare that elected officials who remain in office too long become preoccupied with re-election and ignore their duties as representatives of the people."

The court ruled that states did not have the power to alter qualifications for Congress, other than through an amendment to the Constitution requiring two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress. The ruling threw the term-limits debate back to Washington, where supporters were quick to pounce.

"There is only one hope for the overwhelming number of people in this country who endorse term limits," Missouri's Sen. John Ashcroft said in introducing a constitutional amendment that would allow states to set the terms of Congress. "Let us provide another avenue where the voice of the people regarding this important matter can be heard."

Opponents, like House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, argue the point with similar populist abandon.

"People like having the power to vote for who they want," he said. "This is about the power of people to decide."

It's unlikely that Congress will pass Ashcroft's amendment - or other versions that are kicking around on Capitol Hill - this year. The House already failed to produce the two-thirds vote on one amendment, and it's doubtful the Senate will do so when it votes later this year. …

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