Sunday, November 13, 2011

Modifying Michigan’s Term Limits–Is This a Fight Worth Fighting?

I have introduced a House Joint Resolution (HJR II) proposing an amendment to the state constitution of 1963, by:

1. Term Limits. Amending section 54 of article IV to modify term limits for state representatives and state senators to a maximum of 14 years, to be served in any combination. This shall first apply in 2015 and for state representatives and state senators first elected as either state representative or state senator in November, 2014 or later. This has the effect of including no legislator currently serving so that no one can claim this change is being made for any current legislator’s self-interest.

This change in term limits is consistent with the proposal previously supported by the Bipartisan Freshman Caucus a couple of years ago.

“And members of the House Bipartisan Caucus have earned support from the last three governors. Governor Jennifer Granholm endorsed the no-budget, no-pay plan in her State of the State speech. And in February, Jim Blanchard and John Engler both cited term limits as a major cause for Lansing’s ineffectiveness.

Citizens agree. The 10,000 citizens who participated in The Center for Michigan’s community conversations put term limits at the top of their list of reforms.
. . .
Our strict term limits – “mandated inexperience” in the words of Lansing political sage Richard McClellan – have hobbled Michigan for years.”

“According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 15 out of the 50 states currently have term limits. Michigan and Ohio are the two states in the upper Midwest that have term limits. The others are Maine, California, Colorado, Arkansas, Florida, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Nevada and Nebraska. In six others states—Idaho, Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming—term limits were repealed by legislative or court action.”

Only California and Arkansas laws are as restrictive as Michigan’s term limits.

2. Session Length Limit. Amending section 13 of article IV to limit the legislative session to 170 consecutive days and providing for special sessions limited to 30 days and specified purposes with the approval of 2/3 of both houses. In essence, the legislature would need to be done before the end of June (except in extraordinary circumstances, following provisions of the Washington State Constitution). This "part-time legislature" provision would take effect in 2015 to give all candidates running for election or re-election ample notice of what they are running for and be concurrent with the change in term limits.

3. Special Sessions at the call of the Governor. Amending section 15 of article V to modify convening special sessions by the governor. This change brings the Governor’s power in line with the proposed ability of the legislature to call itself into session for a maximum of 30 days.

Note: The limit to session lengths has been included solely to obtain votes at the polls, as I perceive voters will "need to get something". I am under no illusions that a "part-time legislature" would in fact be a part-time job, with committee meetings, issue research and voter consultation continuing during recesses as occur currently. Even the "part-time" legislators I worked with in Washington State with a 105 day session worked virtually full time as legislators, and few could hold other jobs. That said, it would not cause me heartburn to see this provision stripped out of the legislation during the legislative process. The idea, however, deserves to be fully vetted.

Some have labeled this proposal dead on arrival, but it is a serious issue that we need to keep talking about, although as a "good government" issue, it is not one to rise to the level of passion. See “Term Limits Here to Stay” by Tim Skubick at However, while we are in the process of “fixing Michigan”, it is prudent to cure the unintended consequences of the term limits enacted by Michigan voters amending the Constitution in 1992.

“Term limits’ destructive impacts — most notably the erosion of institutional knowledge, policy expertise, and trust in the Capitol — are of deep concern to just about any interest group with any regular contact with legislators. Even the lobbyists who arguably profit most from the constant changeover in Lansing acknowledge they lose because they can rarely accomplish anything for their clients.” “Bipartisan freshmen demand movement on term limits and budget reforms” at

“The problems with term limits are many. They make it difficult for lawmakers to learn complex issues or master the arcane rules of legislating. The short tenure in office means lobbyists and long-time staffers become the keepers of institutional memory and wield greater influence than they did before -- the opposite of what voters hoped for when they created ever-freshening bands of "citizen legislators."

In addition, term limits have fueled politics – as if politics needed fueling. Lawmakers in the Senate, for instance, worry that termed-out colleagues in the House may come gunning for their jobs. That can make them watch out for their own interests more than the public interest.”

Keen observers also not the lack of time for legislators to develop relationships amongst themselves and even rivalries for higher office between State Representatives within the same State Senator districts as problems.

So why have legislators been reluctant to support a change? The State of the State Surveys conducted by researchers in the Office for Survey Research in the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research specializing in policy, leadership and research within Michigan State University's College of Social Science has found strong general support for term limits:

Winter 2004             72.0%
Fall 2004                 78.5%
Spring 2006             72.9%
Winter 2008             75.2%

However, a State of the State Survey conducted in May and June, 2009 probed deeper into the question.

“Under Michigan’s Constitution, legislators can serve three full terms in the Michigan House and two full terms in the Michigan Senate, a total of 14 years. This spring, SOSS asked: What about keeping the overall limit at 14 years, but allowing all 14 to be in the House, or all 14 in the Senate, or any combination? 53.7% Favor, 41.7% Oppose”

“When we look beneath the surface, we are able to see things that wouldn’t be apparent if we asked the question in the generic way,” said Dr. Charles Ballard, survey director and MSU economics professor.

The Center for Michigan calls this “Big News: A shift in public opinion on Michigan term limits” at

U.S. Term Limits President Phil Blumel immediately jumped to the defense of term limits by blasting me with “a Michigan-wide poll on term limits conducted in 2008 found 66% support among voters for the current state term limit law. It is the height of arrogance to demand that voters provide him with the opportunity to be in the state House of Representatives for a longer time because he can’t figure out how to do the job.”
. . .
It is truly amazing that a newly elected politician would become so attached to power that he would seek to create a more permanent political class in Lansing.”

Blumel reacted without even knowing the content of the proposal which prevents any current legislator from benefiting. And, he certainly did no research into how prepared I am to fulfill the role of legislator. Many legislators may shy away from considering such a controversial topic when they will be faced by such knee-jerk reactions.

The ability of the current legislature to “get things done” may seem to undercut the argument for modifying term limits. Whether my constituents agree with what we have done, what I hear time and again is, “at least you are getting things done”. Obviously, Republicans having majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Governorship has aided the ability to address longstanding issues that evaded solution earlier.

Nonetheless, is it good government when few of the 63 newly elected State Representatives had little opportunity for input on the many changes we made earlier this year? Despite the many talents of the incoming legislators, both Republican and Democrat, we had little choice but to press a red or green button. The process was far more dominated by the executive branch, the lobbyists and legislative leaders than would have been the case if there had been more experienced legislators.

Despite an apparent lack of support from fellow legislators, I introduced the HJR anyway. I believe a leader is one who works for improvements even before he knows whether there is support for them. I prefer to base my decisions on facts and information, rather than polls and surveys.


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