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Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert, a public-interest attorney and journalist, is the Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College, an interdisciplinary center devoted to the theory and practice of women's leadership.

What the Founders rejected

Q: When he died this week, Robert Byrd, who was a frail 92, had represented West Virginia in the Senate for more than 50 years. Is it generally a good idea for top leaders in any sector to serve that long, or that late in life? Given the common instinct to hang on, should limits be imposed?

Senator Byrd was well known for carrying a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his pocket, and he would be the first to note that it is the Constitution that specifies what if any qualifications a Senator must have. Notably, Article I, Section 3 provides only that Senators be over 30 years of age, be an American citizen for at least nine years and live in the state he or she represents. The Founders wisely rejected any other prerequisites -- like educational level, or limits on the number of terms preferring to leave the question of who is most qualified to be a senator to the voters themselves.

The fact that the good people of West Virginia kept returning Robert Byrd to office is a testament to his honorable service. In a democracy, the decisions of the voters, not arbitrary age limits, ought to control who serves in Congress.

By Kathryn Kolbert

 |  June 29, 2010; 10:34 AM ET
Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I concur with the 12 years and out for all elected officials. The "good-old-boys club", earmarks, and pork are signs of professional politicians. Why is the Coast Guard Pay and Personnel Center in Kansas and the Operational Computer Center in West Virginia?

Posted by: jimr7 | July 1, 2010 8:52 AM
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Good people of West Virginia? Testament to his honorable service? He was no Pericles and a democracy allows for the rable to vote for less than honorable people. I would think that the good people of WV loved Byrd for the pork he sent home and less for the Periclian virtues of great leadership. Please, avoid the ideal of voting as always perfect.

Posted by: deej18032002 | June 29, 2010 6:42 PM
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Excuse me, I spoke somewhat unclearly... POTUS is limited to being elected to 2 terms for a total of 8 years, but can serve just under 10 years if he first ascends to the Presidency with less than 2 years remaining of the outgoing/deceased POTUS' elected term of office

From the 22nd amendment...

"No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once"

Posted by: wildfyre99 | June 29, 2010 12:40 PM
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It could also be testament to the power of the incumbent. An incumbent politician has an often insurmountable advantage over most average and many exceptional challengers. Face it, Byrd could have refused to run a single add for his reelection campaign and he still would have been elected? Why, because of the power he exercised as a senior member of the "good ole boys club." Only the most egregious faux pas can threaten incubents of Bryd's stature (as Ted Steven's recently learned).

There was nothing in the constitution about term limits for the POTUS until Congress managed to amend it to limit the office to 8 years. Congressional term limits could should be enacted based upon the same arguments used to limit the President.

"12 years and OUT" for all elected federal officials... 3 terms for POTUS/VPOTUS, 2 terms for Senators and 6 terms for Representatives! Plenty of time to get something done while greatly lessening the liklihood of the "professional politician" (though not eliminating it since even I would not forbid "branch jumping."

Posted by: wildfyre99 | June 29, 2010 11:29 AM
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