I heartily agree with your recent editorial “Candidates for Congress needed,” which called for real competition in key congressional elections. Unfortunately, that will not happen without term limits. The Supreme Court ruled years ago that the states cannot limit the terms of its members, and it is highly unlikely that members will change a system that strongly favors their own re-election.
Our nation’s founders favored “rotation in office.” It was expected that members would serve briefly and then return to private life. Abraham Lincoln served only one term in the House and then, by agreement, yielded the seat to enable a friend to run. Short tenure for members of the House was the practice for most of the next century. In recent times it has not been unusual for members to serve for 20 or 30 years, or longer.
Incumbents enjoy an enormous advantage in getting re-elected. They receive continued press attention. To assure continued access and influence, contributors are more likely to give money to incumbents who are favored to win. It would take a brave (or foolish) challenger to run against a better-known incumbent who has a multimillion-dollar war chest.
To help assure the re-election of their incumbents, both parties cooperate in creating districts that favor their own candidates, a practice known as gerrymandering.
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There are many good people serving in Congress, but there are many more who are well qualified and willing and eager to serve their country if a level playing field would give them a fair shot at getting elected. Under our Constitution the people have a fundamental right to be represented in Congress by those of their own choosing in free and fair elections. They are being denied that right under our present system.
Orval Hansen, of Boise, served in Congress representing Idaho’s 2nd District from 1968 to 1975.