First, term limits violate the basic democratic principle that voters should be allowed to choose their representatives. If the people of a state or district believe that a lawmaker has represented and will continue to represent their interests in the legislature, they should have every right to elect him or her to office for as long as they like.

Second, and related to the first point, is the fact that term limits do not discriminate between effective and ineffective lawmakers. Term limits would, by design, force competent, conscientious and talented legislators out of office, depriving the legislature of their skill for no reason other than a knee-jerk distaste for long-serving lawmakers.

Which leads us to our third point: Term limits reduce congressional capacity and destroy any incentive that might exist for a lawmaker to develop policy or procedural expertise. It’s easy to forget at a moment when some of our most prominent lawmakers are little more than influencers, but legislating is real work that demands actual expertise. Any elected official who hopes to do anything serious must build relationships with other members, as well as learn the ins and outs of writing laws. This takes time, the same way that expertise in any profession takes time.

To deprive a legislature of expertise and knowledge is to create a vacuum that will be filled, since the legislature still needs to legislate. In states where term limits exist, the executive bureaucracy tends to wield greater influence over policy than the public’s elected representatives. So do lobbyists and interest groups, who simply have more time to build their own expertise. They, rather than lawmakers, become the stewards of institutional knowledge.

Term limits are a good way to create the appearance of change. They are also a good way to weaken a legislature. They are not a good way to solve the problem of political competition, which is what their proponents seem to want most.

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