The Alabama Legislature approved a resolution calling on Congress to organize a national convention for drafting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution “to limit the number of terms a person may serve as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and as a member of the U.S. Senate.”
House Joint Resolution 23 (H.J.R. 23), approved by both chambers of the legislature in January, would enter Alabama into a convention of states for the purpose of proposing the amendment. The resolution is based on model language proposed by U.S. Term Limits, a nonprofit organization advocating for limiting lawmakers’ tenure at all levels of government.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution establishes methods for proposing and enacting amendments, including a state-led process. After 34 states call for an amendment convention, commissioners meet to draft an amendment or amendments enacting the specified proposal. Three-quarters of the states must ratify the proposed amendment for it to take effect.
Alabama is the second state to pass a resolution consistent with the U.S. Term Limits draft legislation.
H.J.R. 23’s sponsor, Alabama state Rep. Kerry Rich (R-Albertville), says the Founding Fathers would have supported the term-limits movement.
“The original Founders felt that it was important that you have more citizen types,” Rich said. “In other words, they served in Congress for a while and then they came home and took care of business at home.”
Rich says Washington legislators have grown to view lawmaking as a career move instead of a public service.
“They have the viewpoint that Congress is their career, and they don’t want to lose their career,” Rich said. “They won’t vote for term limits.”
Looking to the States
Rich says state legislators can rein in Washington’s excesses by doing what Congress is unwilling to do.
“There have been efforts in Congress to set some kind of term limits, but it’s never been done,” Rich said. “If you keep doing something and it doesn’t work, after a while you realize that you’re not going to be successful trying to do it that way, so you have to look at the other way of doing it: the states calling for a constitutional convention.”
Sean Grehalva, Alabama state director for U.S. Term Limits, says the movement’s message resonates particularly with President Donald Trump’s political base.
“Our organization is nonpartisan, but our goal appeals heavily to Trump supporters because of his vocal and repeated support of term limits,” Grehalva said. “Everyday Americans can see the corruption and deadlock that Washington breeds, and that is reflected in Congress’ extremely low approval ratings.”
Remaining in DC seems to breed contempt for voters back home, Grehalva says.
“Those that are most flagrant in their disregard for their constituents tend to have the longest tenure in seats of power,” Grehalva said.
Governing ‘on a Merit Basis’
Congressional term limits would also enforce honesty and meritocracy among legislators, Rich says.
“If you had term limits, you wouldn’t be on a seniority system,” Rich said. “It would be more or less on a merit basis, and all states would be equal in that regard. People who do not rely on being in Congress as a career would be less likely to be influenced by lobbyists or special interests, because they would depend on doing something else as their primary livelihood.”
Grehalva says term limits would put all members of Congress on equal footing, benefiting their respective voters.
“In the span of one Senate term, Alabama will have seen our two very experienced, well-respected, and well-connected senators leave,” Grehalva said. “It will likely take us close to two decades before new senators will be able to build up the connections and respect that it would take to replace such a loss.
“When term limits are enacted, Alabama will not be forced to wait 20 years for decent replacements to be raised and trained,” Grehalva said. “The entire country will be on an even playing field, and we will be able to see a far shorter timeline for regaining influence in Washington.”
‘Congress Has Failed’
Rich says although the road to an amendment convention will be long, the benefits will be worth the effort.
“It’s going to be a long process to get this done,” Rich said. “We have done our part in Alabama, and I think the entire country would benefit if you placed reasonable term limits on members of Congress.”
It’s time for state lawmakers to fix a broken federal system, Grehalva says.
“At the end of the day, Congress has failed to act, and now it is time for the states to pick up their slack,” Grehalva said.