Editorial: Keeping power in check

There is a saying that power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely. That applies to politicians who hold office for too long.  

Public service is meant to be just that – service to the public. An elected representative should carry out the will of the public. It seems we have moved far afield from that. Instead, career politicians wield enormous power, which, if not used ethically and in the public’s best interest, can derail policy making that might otherwise benefit their constituents.  

One possible solution is term limits. If elected on a rotating basis, politicians would have to run on a platform of specific ideas to get elected. Partisan politics would take a back seat and would-be voters would be forced to get to know the candidates in order to cast their votes. It would provide a useful check on the power of federal legislators.  

A number of Maine’s second district congressional hopefuls have said they would vote for legislation that would bar members of the U.S. House of Representatives from serving more than three, two-year terms. The current office holder, Jared Golden, signed a pledge in December formally committing to cosponsor and vote for a Constitutional amendment to limit House members to three terms and senators to two.  

This idea is not new. In 1996, then-candidate Susan Collins pledged to run only two terms if elected. Five terms and 25 years later, Collins is still in office. She even won a tough race last year as a Republican in a state that is moving slowly to the left. And while she does a tremendous amount of work for the state overall, we’d like to think even more could get done with a more level playing field.  

Congress isn’t all that popular, so it is difficult to understand what drives voters to return to the polls year after year for incumbent politicians. A 2021 Gallop poll found that only 12 percent of respondents had confidence in Congress. That number has hovered at that level for many years. In the private sector, an approval rate of 12 percent would surely get you fired.  

Presidents have terms limits. Maine legislators have term limits. So should members of Congress.  

Bills continue to be introduced on this topic. But when the politicians who benefit from their power are asked to limit it somehow, those bills don’t go very far. 

We expect our politicians to put Maine voters first as they make decisions, but it is not clear they always do so. The need for exceptional governance has not gone unnoticed over the last two years. As we look to the future, we need to hold politicians accountable back in their districts. We also need to demand that the party system puts voters ahead of politics and gamesmanship. If that doesn’t happen, we need to push for the terms limits that would make it happen. 

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