Constitution Day

Asher Hyten

If you had walked into SAC 115 at exactly 6 pm that Thursday night you would have seen a surprising turnout given the past year.

Dr. Leif Hoffmann, in his usual cheer and excitement, stood behind the computer. Clearly smiling behind his now signature green bison mask, he prepares the slide shows and tends to the Zoom stream.

For those familiar with the campus community, there were more than a few familiar faces. Notably, President Pemberton and Vice President of Student Affair, Dr. Andrew Hansen.

The panel of speakers itself boasts its own merit with the Social Sciences Division Chair, Dr. Chris Riggs, along with Dr. Kaylee Britzman, Dr.
Gene Straughan, and as previously mentioned, Dr. Leif Hoffmann.

Needless to say, between four doctorate holders, there was an abundance of experience and knowledge ready to take the podium.

Before anything else is said, Dr. Hoffmann opens with an acknowledgement, a thanks and nod to the indigenious Niimiipuu who cared for and protected the land and it’s resources as we now gathered on and used.

While not entirely apparent at the start, this tone of respect sets the stage for the rest of the presentation.

As the event begins, the topic of interest for this year’s Constitution Day is clearly stated: Should there be term limits? With such a simple question and the political state of the country, it looked as though this would be a one-sided conversation with an obvious victor.

As Dr. Britzman steps up to the podium, she begins with a rapid fire set of points outlining the support of the local community for term
limits among it’s elected, including the Congressional and even Judicial branches.

She then handed it off to Dr. Hoffman, who presents an international perspective on the issue and furthers Dr. Britzman’s points on support within Idaho for limits. He ends his section by posing a question, one which he leaves unanswered (for now): What is the capital of Malawi?

The flow is seamless as Dr. Riggs steps up to plate, ready to present a condensed history of the last 200 years of term limit debate. From the Constitutional Convention and the decision not to limit the number of terms, to the passing of the 22nd amendment limiting presidential terms.

The Watergate scandal and the loss of public faith in government to present day issues, Dr. Riggs managed to present several different mindsets throughout the United States of America’s history in a brief but effective micro-lecture.

Where the bulk of the presentation takes place is with Dr. Straughan. The academic nature speaks to just how much can be pulled from one
or two major occurrences. Through one court case, Dr. Straughan rips down the veil of possibility and presents a cold hard truth; this issue was already shot down long before anyone entered the room that night.

The Supreme Court ruled against term limits, state imposed (on federal positions), or federally unless there is an amendment made to the Constitution. Based on the history of prior attempts to do this, the chances of this ever coming to pass are slim.

To further drive home the point and now revealing the position of the panel, Dr. Britzman took over, presenting the less than savory outcomes of states which have imposed term limits on their local levels, including:
– Polarization increases
– Hard time recruiting quality candidates
– Decrease in electoral competition—Less people run, less people to vote for
– Increases the power of political parties since they are the one recruiting and those recruits look to those who recruit them for knowledge
– Increased reliance on interest group

The resulting issues of such policies left a heaviness to the room, begging for a solution with the previously ‘easy fix’ now looking more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Dr. Britzman presents the room with the cold, unrelenting truth; there is nothing easy about this issue. There is no one fix and that is something that must be realized in order to provide, in her words, “a more holistic approach”.

The flip to Dr. Hoffmann brings some tentative relief. With his head first dive into the international scope, it only hunkers down on the fact that some of the most successful democracies/governments were without term limits but possess a structure that would doubtedly be accepted in the USA.

Parliamentary systems allow the people to vote for those who will serve on the parlament, but the prime minister is chosen by the
members. This would not be terribly popular given the current system here, but it does pose many advantages when looking at the natural self-regulation that appears to have come from it.

After covering foreign policy, particularly that of Europe, Dr. Hoffmann poses his question once again: What is the capital of Malawi? Quiet, the audience does not answer, even as Dr. Hoffmann prompts, asking if anyone had thought to Google it. Given no response, he reveals the answer.

Now displayed on the screen, Lilongwe stands without fanfare, an understated but telling piece of knowledge that points uncomfortably to much of the room’s lack of knowledge on the subject.

A few beats of silence pass before he speaks, “We must gain new knowledge, but the best day to attack a country is the day where everyone is new.” The implication of our own lack of knowledge left to us to sit on as the presentation concluded.