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The reason of age




Inside the Reef By Joyce McClure

Term limits for members of the U.S. Congress have been a point of discussion since the meeting of the first Constitutional Congress. But the U.S. is not the only democratic nation that might benefit from good housecleaning. 


The Federated States of Micronesia at both the national and state levels has calcified leadership among its members with little to no competition when election time rolls around.


Yap’s two-man congressional delegation has been elected and re-elected for nearly 40 years. During that time, only one or two brave souls have run against them despite little hope of winning.


The last local election for the legislature in Yap was an upset when some long-time incumbents were overridden by write-in candidates. The people spoke and they spoke loudly. But that’s an exception.


Gov. Charles Chieng took the geriatric Yap delegation to task in his state of the state address in January about their not consulting with the Yap government before proposing the consolidation of the states’ project management offices into one office located in Pohnpei. With 40 infrastructure projects being implemented in Yap alone, having an office that is “on the other side of the globe” is unmanageable, he argued in his fury.


It seems inviolable hubris caught up with them.


In like fashion, former FSM President Peter Christian of Pohnpei has been in the FSM Congress since 1979 with only one brief gap when he lost one election in 2019 after his administration was rocked by a bribery scandal involving his son-in-law Master Halbert. Christian is a Teflon candidate, like others who are re-elected time and again, often speculated to be due to backroom threats, bribes and deals with potential opponents.


Others serving in the state legislatures have held their positions equally long. Granted, a few are upstanding citizens with solid track records and the last election resulted in write-in votes that eclipsed incumbents, but others leave one wondering why they continue to be elected. The answer is often the mandate of the local chief who tells his community whom to vote for, relationships of family and friends, and “gifts” of beer, rice and money.


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The pros and cons of term limits for the U.S. Congress focus on several factors according to a March 2023 article in Indiana University’s student-run publication, The Reflector. It begins by citing “possible problems regarding the age and demographics of Congress overall.”


The median age of the Senate is 65.3 years, up from 62.4 in 2019, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. “This provides an interesting look at the kind of people that are creating legislation, since, according to Axios, the average American is 20 years younger than the average House and Senate member,” notes The Reflector article. “This is an important aspect of the makeup of Congress to understand because, though the average American is younger than the average congressperson, the average voter turnout is based largely in the geriatric population.”


Voters from 65 and up in the 2016 and 2020 elections “voted at an increased rate as opposed to younger voters. This ties into term limits, as with the older voters voting for the House and Senate members that represent their demographics, the Congress members stay in their seats come election time.”


With term limits, the people voting, no matter what age they are, would have to choose another candidate for their respective districts. This would make it so that the same legislators are not staying in their seats for decades and making changes or not making changes that do not reflect their constituents’ needs.


The same holds true for the FSM and other Pacific islands with small populations and a brain drain that is largely the result of a lack of opportunities and low wages.

On the con side, The Reflector article states: “Part of the reason behind Americans’ concern with the age of representatives in Congress is the corruption and outdated ideologies that they may hold. Although this may be true for some in Congress, setting a cap on the age at which people can be in Congress will not eliminate this.


“One concern in American politics is the influence of lobbyists…there are claims that it is common for novice legislators to fill their information and policy gaps by using lobbyists’ knowledge that advocates for special interest groups.


Although nothing is stopping older politicians from doing the same thing, setting an age limit for people in Congress would not eliminate the political corruption in America, as some proponents of age limits may suggest.”


In the FSM, the lobbyists are the embassies and their governments. They, too, have special-interest agendas. Former President David Panuelo detailed as much in his explosive letter to the FSM congress about China’s corruption and influence on members of his administration and elected leaders. When Wesley Simina was named president, he denied Panuelo’s claims by apologizing to China and shutting the door on any further questioning.


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Some people argue “that since there are minimum age requirements that people must meet to run for Congress, there should also be a maximum age limit,” The Reflector writer asserts. “James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 62 that the minimum age requirement was to give candidates enough lifetime to gain a ‘greater extent of information and stability of character. ‘In what other profession do we force the best employees into retirement with no consideration as to their abilities or effectiveness on the job?’ states Casey Burgat in Five Reasons to Oppose Congressional Term Limits for Brookings. ‘Doesn’t it make more sense to capitalize on their skills, talents and experience, rather than forcing them to the sidelines where they will do their constituents, the public and the institution far less good?’”


“Some people over the age of 79—the age usually proposed with an age limit—still have incredibly sharp minds and should not be pushed out of a career if they are still capable of doing it well simply on the basis of their age,” argues The Reflector. “According to Brookings, removing people from Congress only on the premise of their age is a ‘bad return on an investment of time spent learning and mastering the ins and outs of policymaking in Congress.’”


While this may be true in Micronesia, as well, there is no system for mentoring and training future leaders like there is in the U.S. where young men and women often serve internships and spend time in supporting roles before launching into elective politics.


The foreign embassies offer programs, cohorts and scholarships for the younger generation of Pacific islanders, but there are no incentives and few opportunities for them to return after college and enter the political arena.


Joyce McClure is a former senior marketing executive and former Peace Corps volunteer in Yap. Transitioning to freelance writing, she moved to Guam in 2021 and recently relocated back to the mainland. Send feedback to joycemcc62@yahoo.com 



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