Bullhorn: Term Limits Are Part of the Solution

To help us launch It’s A Free Country, we reached out to politicians, academics, cultural thinkers, and activists to help us define our mission. The question we asked is simple: “What’s Broken in Politics, and How Do We Fix It?” This is Gerson Borrero's answer.

If we lend credence to recent polls, then voters in New York are set to punish one of the most dysfunctional state legislatures in the nation. September 14 is the first shot the electorate gets to settle the score with those that shamed us by turning Albany into a circus. And yet when one peruses how many in the Senate or Assembly are facing opposition from within their own parties, reality sets in.

Neither Democrat nor Republican incumbents are facing much opposition. The majority of the 62 seats in the Senate and 150 in the Assembly are safe. History is also on their side. According to the civic group Citizens Union, at least 90% of state legislative incumbents have been re-elected in the last decade.

So, the outcry for vengeance found by pollsters and reported ad nauseum by the media looks to be in vain. The screams of “Let’s throw the bums out!” will get lost into the wilderness. 


What isn’t up for debate is how repugnant the majority of voters feel about incumbents. The most ardent supporters of the status quo have said little or nothing to defend the malady of incumbency that has taken over our democracy.

And I believe there is a solution. Term limits would be the first sure step towards returning a representative system back into the hands of the voters. The overhaul should include every elected office of our government.

Let’s begin in Washington, by limiting the Presidency to one six-year term. We have witnessed the best-intentioned man be sworn in after having promised to do things differently, only to get bogged down by the business-as-usual Washington chain of command. We have also seen in full form the enslavement of Presidents to the tyranny of re-election. The pursuit of dollars to finance a second term consumes the Chief Executive office.

From DC to the fifty states we would travel. Terms in the House of Representatives should be restricted to five two-year terms. Ten years are more than enough for a Member of Congress to do right by their constituents back home. Senators should be kept to two six-year terms. There are certainly exceptions of accomplished Senators, but the majority could do what is needed during the allotted two terms and be removed before they succumb to temptation.

Irrespective of where one stands on the ethics charges leveled against Representative Charles B. Rangel, the 20-term incumbent, he stands out as a leading example for limiting the terms in office of all elected officials. Rangel has been a member of the House since 1971. He chaired the powerful Ways & Means Committee since 2007, before been forced to step down this year. Intentionally or not, the arrogance of absolute and unchallenged power is partially responsible for Rangel’s embarrassing twilight years.

The poster boy for term limits on the Republican side is none other than Joseph L. Bruno. Now convicted of mail and wire fraud, the ex-Majority Leader was first elected in 1976 and was a Senator in the New York State Legislature until 2008. NYS Legislators should serve no more than six years. Period. Or would anyone want to risk having Pedro Espada, Jr. in Albany for another 10 years?

And finally, once we commit to term limits, we should make sure they stick. In 2009, we all witnessed the most egregious flipping of the bird by a legislative body against the will of those they purport to represent. The New York City Council Speaker delivered the majority of votes that the Mayor needed to overturn two resounding mandates from voters to limit him to two four-year terms their service.

Some could argue that in November of 2009 the voters approved the chanchullo (trickery) of the entrenched politicians by reelecting Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Speaker Christine Quinn and the Council. I argue that there has to be a way that, once approved, term limits should be immune to political machinations.

The current system has proven ineffective. The only way to throw the bums out is to escort them to the door. Let's Term Limit them out. Adios, bandidos!

Gerson Borrero is a columnist for El Diario La Prensa and blogs at borreroreport.com.