The problem with “term limits”


By Ray Hanania

When the election is over, the losing candidate is the one who will sit down and wonder how they lost while the winner won’t really spend much time contemplating why he, or she won.

It’s a process that needs to be done before the election, though, not after. Asking yourself when the campaign starts “Why did I lose?” could make the difference between losing the general election on November 4, and winning.

Take the governor’s race. Illinois is fortunate to have two great candidates, one a former outsider and seasoned politician who is the incumbent, Gov. Pat Quinn, and another, the outsider who proved he has the natural political acumen to win an election, Bruce Rauner.

Both are great speakers and both excelled in their campaigns, but also stumbled.

Rauner has made “term limits” a cornerstone of his primary election campaign, and I think that is a major stumble. Rauner is a successful businessman, and I think business wealth is a measure of a person’s ability to lead, especially in a state with many financial problems. I like the fact that he eschewed the GOP extremists who have dragged his party down across this country. The Tea Party may rock in Texas, but in centrist Illinois, most moderate voters, Republican and Democrats see the Tea Party as political cancer with no solutions.

Yet, Rauner’s insistence of pushing “term limits” is a critical mistake that might cost him the November 4 election.

Rauner’s real challenge isn’t to defeat the Democrat, as many believe. His real challenge is to build a coalition of Republicans and Democrats. Otherwise he loses. Illinois’ political system is rambunctious and contentious and despite Democratic dominance, many Democrats who might otherwise support Rauner won’t when he continues to push “term limits.”

What are “term limits?” In truth, it’s not about improving the system. It is about giving “losers” and people who could vote but don’t a lazy means of participating, and, the ability to undermine the election process. The only real effective “term limits” process is the one exercised by voting. The voters should be the only people who determine the term limits of their elected officials.

A good example is to look at the Mayors of New York. Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg are probably two of the best mayors New York City has ever had. But term limits ended their careers, against the will of the voters. (Giuliani served two terms but the term limit law was extended to three terms for Bloomberg.)

Now, New York City has stumbling, bumbling Mayor Bill De Blasio. Maybe he wasn’t ready to become mayor of New York City. But “term limits” forced Bloomberg out and pushed De Blasio to make the plunge early, before he was ready. He has been a mess ever since.

Rauner has a strong chance, but pushing term limits is a non-starter for most Democratic voters, including the conservative or “Reagan Democrats” who I would think would be one of his target constituencies in the Chicagoland suburbs.

Term limits is a slap in the face of voters, not an asset. It sounds good during the campaign because just enough people seem to react favorably. But in the end, the real issues that will decide the election are jobs, the economy, strengthening programs to help businesses, the needy and our schools.

Term limits is a distraction and an anchor in any election success.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. Reach him at

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Categories: American politics, Chicagoland Topics

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