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Let’s talk about term limits

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Americans are divided over just about everything today. From politics to sports to entertainment, Americans do not agree on anything, except for their dislike of career D.C. politicians in Congress. Poll after poll indicates that over 80% of Americans support term limits for Congress, regardless of political affiliation. Those are percentages that such famous Montanans as Gary Cooper and Evel Knievel could not achieve. And voters repeatedly elect political candidates who support term limits.

Americans see Congress as part of the problem for the dysfunction that we see today in our institutions. According to Gallup, approval for Congress has not reached 30% in over a decade. Voters don’t see Congress working for them. As I have travelled around Montana, I have heard this sentiment expressed over and over again.

For many, serving in Congress has become a lucrative lifelong job. We have one member of the House of Representatives who was first elected in 1980. In the Senate, we have a Senator serving who was first elected in 1974. That is 90 years in Congress between the two of them. Sadly, but now to be expected, both are seeking re-election in 2022. Such self-interested behavior led Harry Truman to say, “term limits would cure both; senility and seniority- both terrible legislative diseases.”

What is the solution? Term limits.

But Congress has never voted to term limit themselves, and never will. The initial desire to supposedly serve us is eventually over taken by them serving themselves. Although there are a few members of Congress who favor congressional term limits and are backing legislation to enact it, this legislation faces stiff opposition from entrenched Washington insiders.

So, what can be done? Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, individual states can issue a call for a national convention to propose amendments to the Constitution. This allows states to make an end run around Congress. If two-thirds (34) of the state legislatures apply for an Article V convention to propose a Congressional Term Limits Amendment, Congress must call the convention. If the convention passes the amendment, it is sent back to the States and requires three-fourths (38) of them to ratify it before it becomes part of the U.S. Constitution. That is a difficult feat for sure, but doable if Montana, and their Legislators, do their part. Dwight Eisenhower supported congressional term limits, saying, “a constitutional amendment for congressional term limits could never achieve the blessing of Congress; it could be initiated only by the states.”

Five states, - Florida, Alabama, Missouri, West Virginia, and Wisconsin – have passed resolutions calling for a national convention to amend the Constitution limited to the subject of Congressional term limits. So why isn’t Montana one of the states calling for an Article V Convention for congressional term limits? The Montana State Legislature won’t act unless they get permission from, believe it or not, the John Birch Society, which opposes an Article V Convention.

You might ask, what does the John Birch Society have to do with this? I thought they were about fighting communism and promoting smaller government. That may have been your parent’s John Birch Society in the 1950’s. But today’s John Birch Society is about maintaining the status quo. Forget smaller government and what the people want. There is a reason why Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater publicly denounced the John Birch Society.

Utah resident Robert Brown, a national spokesman for the John Birch Society, was recorded recently saying that Montana Legislative Leaders declared in a letter that they will not  bring forward an Article V bill for Term Limits unless an opposing private interest from Texas debates him (Bircher Brown). Think of that. Montanans will not have access to the legislative process unless some guy from Texas debates some guy from Utah?

In effect, the John Birch Society is claiming it controls the Montana legislature, and so the Legislature is accountable to it instead of Montana voters. This is absurd on its face, but when asked about it in a Missoula meeting, Brown didn’t deny the peculiar quid pro quo existed between the John Birch Society and Montana legislative leaders.

And what does the John Birch Society oppose? An Article V Convention limited to congressional term limits. The John Birch Society claims that a state legislature cannot bind delegates to a single-issue convention and that it would result in an unlimited “runaway” Constitutional convention. They claim this despite the fact Constitutional scholars on all sides of the political spectrum have stated that state legislatures can bind the delegates in a narrow Article V Convention, including liberal Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagen and Sonia Sotomayor.

Congressional term limits is the one thing that Ron DeSantis, Herschel Walker, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Beto O’Rourke and Bill de Blasio all agree on. Montana can be leading the way in making congressional term limits a reality. Yet we are not because our legislature won’t act unless they get the green light from the John Birch Society.

As a former Montana State Senator and now State Chair of U.S. Term Limits, I have travelled the state advocating that the legislature retain its public responsibilities, and Article V powers, and pass a resolution calling for a convention for congressional term limits. From Billings to Great Falls to Bozeman to Eureka to Big Sandy the reaction has been the same, Montanans want term limits for Congress. Yet our legislature refuses to act unless it receives permission from the John Birch Society. Enough is enough. Will the Montana Legislature continue to serve the John Birch Society, or the people of Montana?

Ed Walker is a former Montana State Senator and the Montana State Chair for U.S. Term Limits

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