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Opinion: Term limits make room for new perspectives in government

Term limits reinstate the idea that elected office should be a position of service where new voices can bring current issues and solutions to the table

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Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, speaks as officials mark the 12th annual Governor’s Idle Free Declaration during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019.

Scott G Winterton, Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Holding elected office should be an act of service, not a career.

Voters in Salt Lake County will decide in November whether to reelect an at-large county council member, which would mean his holding that seat for at least 18 years.

The goal of being elected to office should not be to try to serve as long as possible, but rather to serve as well as possible, which is why if I’m elected instead, I pledge to serve only two terms on the Council before making way for a new voice with new ideas and renewed energy to serve the people of Salt Lake County. 

Salt Lake County residents are struggling with real challenges right now and need representatives that feel sufficient urgency to act. Even before inflation spiraled out of control and gas prices skyrocketed, housing prices in the county were out of control. A cost of living crisis has gripped Salt Lake County and the current Council has seemed content to sit back and let residents struggle through it on their own.

Without more political pressure to act with urgency, it seems there’s not enough incentive to try to help.

Term limits would change the paradigm and make it the goal of being elected to accomplish as much as possible as quickly as possible.

Term limits on the Salt Lake County Council would also ensure new perspectives force council members to be more responsive to the day-to-day challenges our residents face, while giving new voices with new ideas more opportunities to serve.

A lot has changed in the 12 years since my opponent was first elected to an at-large seat on the County Council. Back then, the median price for a single-family home in Salt Lake County was just $220,000. In August it was a staggering $601,000.

Housing isn’t the only part of the cost of living here, of course. Transportation, food, utilities, health care, child care and taxes all contribute to the economic burden of living in Salt Lake County and all are opportunities for the County Council to help.

Not only would term limits create pressure on council members to engage, and ensure the Council better resembles the constituency it represents, but they would diversify the policy ideas it considers. 

Conservative columnist David Brooks made an astute observation in a column this summer acknowledging that he’s been wrong about a lot of things throughout his career because the lens through which he saw the world kept growing antiquated. “I fall behind,” he wrote. “I’m trying to address one period’s problems through the last period’s frameworks.”

It’s something we’re all guilty of and it’s why it’s so important to prevent entrenchment in elected offices. At some point, the experience of holding the same office for too long becomes a liability, limiting the perspective applied to addressing modern problems.

Our politics need new leaders now more than ever and the biggest hurdle to that is the incredible power of incumbency. The reelection rate in Congress is over 90%, which is one of the big reasons why term limits have such broad bipartisan support.

survey conducted by Scott Rasmussen last fall found that 82% of Americans support term limits on Congress, including 87% of Republicans, 83% of Democrats, and 78% of independents.

2016 poll of Utahns found support for Congressional term limits at 88%, and term limits on governors, attorneys general and members of the state legislature at 85%. The Utah Legislature even passed a law in 1990 imposing term limits on its Congressional delegation, though the Supreme Court rendered it and other states’ similar laws moot five years later. 

I’m not a career politician — I’m a medical doctor. Serving the public is my life’s work, and I’m running for the Salt Lake County Council to try to help. That includes stepping aside after two terms to make way for a new perspective.

Suzanne Harrison represents Sandy and Draper in the State Legislature and is running for at-large seat B on the Salt Lake County Council.