Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks Feb. 21, 2023, during a town hall at Legacy Manufacturing in Marion, Iowa. Credit: Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette via AP

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Nikki Haley has a point. We don’t need more old politicians leading the country.

Haley, a former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently declared her candidacy in the 2024 Republican primary for president. She also has called for “mental competency tests” for any candidates 75 years or older.

“In the America I see, the permanent politician will finally retire,” Haley said when launching her campaign on Feb. 15. “We’ll have term limits for Congress. And mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.”

This competency test idea has already drawn backlash, and rightfully so. It’s an odd and reductive proposal, though it does aim to solve a very real issue.

President Joe Biden is 80, making him the oldest president ever. His predecessor, 2020 opponent and potential 2024 opponent Donald Trump isn’t far behind at 76. Congress, like the country, has been  getting older — but is still older on average than the electorate. There is good reason to be concerned that the same leaders and same ideas all but ensure national stagnation.

The solution, however, isn’t to make sure potential presidents can draw a clock or identify animals, as a Haley aide described the competency test. The simplest and most democratic option is for voters to choose younger and more diverse candidates reflective of the population they represent. This is still a democracy, after all. Voters already have the power, through their votes, to decide if a politician has been in office too long or is no longer up for the job.

Now, the idea of conditioning federal service on age is as old as our constitutional republic. U.S. representatives, U.S. senators and U.S. presidents all must be at least certain ages in order to serve in those roles. So if someone can be too young to serve, it is at least worth considering if someone can be too old to serve. This isn’t a radical or offensive thought, but a logical extension of the Founding Fathers’ logic to include age requirements in the U.S. Constitution.

The age limit idea could make more sense in appointed roles, rather than directly elected ones. Many states already have a mandatory retirement age for judges, for example.

At the end of the day, however, voters don’t need age limits or competency tests to decide for themselves whether a candidate for office is competent or too old. There is certainly a web of complex forces at play here, like a campaign finance system, institutional resources and name recognition combining to empower incumbent politicians. Voters still have the ability to sift through that and decide if they want younger and newer leaders.

We don’t want to sound agist; there are benefits of experience and perspective that can accompany age. But the 2020 presidential debates already looked too much like the old guys from the muppets yelling at each other. The fact that 2024 could feature the same two candidates, four years older, is not a particularly inspiring snapshot at the state or breadth of American leadership.

Haley is close to being on target when talking about the need for younger leaders, but her solution to the problem is off base. But we hope her comments and proposal will at the very least add momentum to a needed conversation about the age and diversity of American leaders.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...