A case against term limits
You can look at the careers of Rep. John Dingell, leaving the House after 59 years; Carl Levin, with 36 years in the Senate, and Reps. Dave Camp and Mike Rogers, 24 years and 14 years respectively, and argue that they make a fine case for term limits.
All four Michigan congressmen have spent most of their working lives in politics at some level, making them what some might derisively call professional politicians.
But Michigan residents are better off for the experience and influence these two Democrats and two Republicans brought to their jobs, and the fact that they stayed around to represent them as long as they did.
With all four leaving Congress next week, Michigan residents should pause and reflect on the quality of representation this quartet of public servants delivered, and what will be lost with their retirements.
It’s fair to say that John Dingell gave every ounce of his life to serving his state and his country. He came to Congress in 1956, succeeding his father, who died after 20 years in the House.
Dingell, D-Dearborn, is both the longest serving of the departing members — and the longest serving in congressional history — and, at 88, also the oldest.
Dingell made his father’s passions his own — health care and the environment — and became one of the most powerful congressmen of his era.
He is the author of both the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, two key pieces of conservationist legislation that the congressmen hoped would protect America’s natural resources without shutting down its industrial might. And they did — until federal regulatory agencies stretched them beyond the limits Dingell and other backers imposed.
He was the most ardent supporter in Washington of Detroit’s automobile industry and its workers, using his clout to beat back regulations that would have destroyed jobs.
Dingell also should be remembered for his work on civil rights. In the early 1960s, he risked his political career to support legislation aimed at ending discrimination.
As longtime chair of the Energy and Commerce committee, Dingell made that committee a feared powerhouse, expanding its reach and power.
He used his position to further an additional passion — hunting. The avid outdoorsman is responsible for setting aside thousands of acres of land for wildlife, including the international preserve along the Detroit River, and was a key defender of the Second Amendment.
To honor his father, Dingell introduced national health care legislation at the beginning of each congressional term, and each time it went nowhere. That changed with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, of which Dingell is the official author.
Over nearly six decades in the House, Dingell never lost his steam, nor his commitment to the people of his downriver district.
Time Magazine, in naming Carl Levin one of America’s 10 best senators, described him this way: “He’s pudgy, balding and occasionally rumpled, and he constantly wears his glasses at the very tip of his nose. Still, the Michigan Democrat has gained respect from both parties for his attention to detail and his knowledge of policy ... .”
Perhaps that’s why Michigan voters were so loyal to the liberal Democrat, who consistently won re-election by large margins, even in periods when the state veered more conservative.
He was a vigilant watchdog of federal agencies, and of corporate America. And he was the closest thing to an independent lawmaker in Congress.
He voted his conscience, even when it meant bucking party leaders. When Majority Leader Harry Reid changed the longstanding filibuster rule, Levin was one of just three Democrats who opposed him, recognizing that the short-term gain for the party was not worth the long-term damage to the Senate.
Levin, 80, a former president of the Detroit City Council, stood up for the automobile industry when it went hat in hand to Washington during the 2008 collapse.
He was also a defender of the Great Lakes, winning resources for restoring the lakes’ biodiversity and protecting their harbors.
His long tenure paid off in considerable influence. He retires as chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, a post that gave him a major say over foreign policy.
Like Dingell, he never allowed the fawning of Washington’s toadies to go to his head. He stayed close to the people he served, and never forgot he was in Washington for their benefit, and not his own.
Dave Camp, R-Midland, was never one of Congress’s loud voices. A deliberate policymaker, Camp worked quietly and seriously on the real issues impacting America and his district.
As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Camp went to work on reforming the nation’s tax code. He came up with a substantive blueprint for reducing tax rates, closing loopholes and making the system more competitive for businesses and simpler for individuals.
Had their been more in Congress like Camp — a representative who understood the true meaning of that word — the plan might today be law. Instead, it remains another good idea gathering dust.
Likewise, had Camp been chairman of the committee when Obamacare was being written, the law surely would have been better focused on controlling costs and promoting wellness, which have been signature issues for Camp.
Camp, 60, leaves Congress with years left on his working life, and hopefully will spend them continuing to work for the benefit of his mid-Michigan constituents.
His is a reasoned, intelligent voice that was too often lonely in a Congress where reason and intelligence are drowned out by partisan chatter.
Mike Rogers is the youngest and shortest serving of the retirees.
At 51, the Brighton Republican is leaving Congress to pursue a career as a syndicated radio talk show host.
His absence will perhaps be the most acutely felt because of his expertise on the pressing threat the nation faces from serial world crises.
Rogers is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and has been consistently among the first to sound the alarm on Middle East terror, U.S. bungling in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Russian encroachment on its neighbors.
A former soldier, Rogers has been an ardent defender of America’s fighting troops. The former FBI agent has also lent an informed opinion to discussions of surveillance and intelligence gathering. He authored a number of bills streamlining and strengthening intelligence gathering and inter-agency sharing.
He has argued for a stronger and more nimble response to early warning signs of trouble overseas. And he has been ahead of the game in pushing for strengthening cybersecurity, an issue that now has the nation’s attention in the wake of North Korea’s hacking of Sony’s computers.
Together, the loss of these four politicians lessens Michigan’s clout in Washington. But the even bigger loss is that of public servants who understood their role was to serve the public.