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Updated Mar 22, 2024, 12:27pm EDT
politicsNorth America

The activist working to ban octogenarians from elected office

Rep. Nancy Pelosi greets Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell before President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address on March 7, 2024.
REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
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On June 11, North Dakota voters will get to decide how old is too old to represent them in Washington. The Congressional Age Limits ballot measure, which would bar anyone from seeking office if they’d be 81 by the end of a term, qualified for an up-or-down vote, despite warnings that a court would inevitably knock it down. Jared Hendrix, the Republican term-limits activist who chairs the campaign, talked with Americana about why he’s doing it and why he’s hopeful it’ll stick.

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Q&A

Americana: What was the origin of this? How did you settle on 81 as the age limit?

Jared Hendrix: Well, you can look at the age limits that already exist. For most state judges, it’s 70. The national polling shows support for political age limits starting at 65, but once you get up to 80, the support is just overwhelming. So, we decided to pick a number with overwhelming support.

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We understand that people might go on to serve in Congress after they’ve had a successful career, and they’re at a point in life where they can try something else. We recognize that people at a later stage in life have a lot of life wisdom they can bring to the table. But if you look at the median age of retirement, it’s 64. So, our limit is 16 years after the median age of retirement. We think that’s reasonable.

Americana: Since U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, it’s assumed that any state restriction on federal office seekers is unconstitutional. I already see people saying, hey, this is going to get struck down. Why wouldn’t it be, because this is a new Supreme Court?

Jared Hendrix: I can’t speculate too much about the courts, but there’s certainly a reasonable chance for some type of challenge. We firmly believe that we’re within our state’s rights to propose this. Congress could act, but it hasn’t, and there’s obvious self-interest in why.

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Americana: How easy was it to get signatures for this? How excited were people to sign it?

Jared Hendrix: Anecdotally, it seemed to be pretty easy to sell to people. It’s just like term limits — they’re not popular with people in political circles who get reelected over and over, into their older years, but they’re popular with average people. Even if someone accepts the argument that term limits are not perfect because bureaucrats will stay in office, that’s all the more reason to have age limits because an overall decline in the ability of our representatives, physically and mentally, only strengthens the influence of bureaucrats and Capitol staff.

Americana: How do you think it’s affected our politics to have this many elderly people in office? You were getting signatures during the senescence of Dianne Feinstein, after Mitch McConnell froze in public, so that drew attention.

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Jared Hendrix: I can’t see into peoples’ hearts and minds on why they signed, but look at the results! We’re passing on trillions and trillions of dollars in debt. We’re getting involved in a lot of overseas conflicts. We’re seeing the effect on our veterans’ suicide rates. We’ve got legislators putting in place policies that they’re never going to live under the consequences of. The national debt is going to cripple future generations, but it won’t ever affect them.

Americana: Did you look into the possibility of setting an age limit for presidential candidates?

Jared Hendrix: No, I think there are far too many legal questions about that, because you’re dealing with a candidate who would be standing for election in multiple states. It was a cleaner, easier, simpler argument to just say we’re going to deal with North Dakota’s three congressional representatives.

Americana: You caucused for Donald Trump this month. Given all these voter attitudes, why do you think we ended up with two presidential candidates who’ll be in their 80s by the time their next term ends?

Jared Hendrix: Boy, you could probably have an hour-long discussion on all the reasons why. The short version is that just because people might support a structural reform, like term limits or age limits, it doesn’t mean they’ll oppose someone who’s right for that moment. That’s just being a good critical thinker. But this gets to a very good argument for what we’re doing. A lot of times, candidates get in and get a significant amount of support, just because they have the power of incumbency and name ID. That really makes our argument for us.

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