At an NYU College Republicans event on Oct. 16, New York gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino advocated for term limits as a means of ethics reform. Astorino, who is running against incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Nov. 4 election, said he and his opponent should debate this notion publicly. Astorino promised that if he wins the election, he would limit several positions within the state legislature to a maximum of two four-year terms, including the offices of governor, attorney general and state comptroller. He also stated he would call for a constitutional convention to secure long-term reform. In a rare consensus on policy, both College Republicans and Democrats applauded the notion of term limits, citing a need to bring change to the New York State legislature. Albany has been plagued with political misconduct in past years, and corruption remains a top issue on the campaign trail. Term limits could be a valuable part of the ethics reform that the state desperately needs.
The call for term limits for public officials is not exclusive to New York. This debate has taken place nationwide as part of a greater conversation about the effectiveness of government. Regardless of Congress’ dismal 14 percent approval rating and historic lack of productivity, most incumbents are re-elected. Despite two- and six-year election cycles in the House and Senate respectively, voters can indefinitely elect the same representative. In part, this cycle stems from voters’ approval of their own representative, but disapproval of Congress as a whole. It is a painful formula that continually yields disappointing results.
Just as Congress cannot save itself from its lack of productivity, Albany suffers from a similar inability to fight corruption of its own volition. A Cuomo-appointed panel recommended comprehensive changes to New York’s ethics and campaign finance laws last December. The report included the damning line: “New York needs comprehensive reform to restore the public trust.” Albany’s critics should consider reining in corruption through term limits, which can prevent the same unethical, unproductive players from spoiling the democratic process.
The increasing presence of a wealthy elite in politics has turned America into an oligarchy rather than a democracy. An April 2014 study conducted by professors from Princeton and Northwestern Universities found that policies the economically elite disfavor are adopted only 18 percent of the time. In order to halt this trend of re-electing representatives who exploit public faith through corruption and inefficiency, voters — both inside and outside of New York — should consider Astorino’s idea. It could be crucial in restoring ethics to Albany, as well as the nation.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 20 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]