In the years leading up to the 1994 Republican wave, the term-limits movement was a key factor driving conservative activism and GOP candidates. The issue played a central role in some of the 1992 and 1994 House races, and several congressmen subsequently kept their own term-limits pledges. But many others do not. When you combine this fact with the philosophical opposition to term limits among some thinkers on the right, you can see why the issue hasn’t been a major part of the 2010 campaign cycle in most parts of the country.
It ought to be. Among the state legislatures with which I am familiar, those operating under term limits perform at least as well as those full of careerists. Open seats are typically more competitive, so legally required rotation in office tends to give voters a greater opportunity to influence the composition of their elected bodies and reduce the excessive accumulation of political power, as designers of republican forms of government have recognized since the days of ancient Rome.
An innovative approach has helped elevate the issue in some congressional districts this year, however. It’s called bonded term limits. Rather than simply pledging to serve three or four terms and asking for the support of skeptical voters (who, polls show, still favor term limits by wide margins), 13 candidates have signed notes under the auspices of the Alliance for Bonded Term Limits that obligate them to make large donations to charity — $1 million, in some cases — if they violate their term-limits pledge.
The 14th candidate to announce his intention to make a bonded-term-limit pledge is Republican B.J. Lawson, a physician and entrepreneur who is challenging longtime incumbent Democrat David Price in North Carolina’s Fourth District.
For more information about the Alliance for Bonded Term Limits, check out this Carolina Journal interview with the founder.