by Bruce Walker
Michigan voters in November will decide whether state legislators will have a shot at longer terms in office.
Proposal One, the Michigan Legislative Term Limits and Financial Disclosure Amendment, was approved by the Michigan legislature for inclusion on the Nov. 8 ballot. If voters approve, term limits for state legislators would expand to 12 combined years in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
Currently House representatives are term-limited at three two-year terms (six years) and state Senators are term-limited at two four-year terms (eight years). Nothing prohibits a politician serving the full six years as a representative as well as and additional eight years as a senator.
“A small minority of legislators serve the maximum terms allowed by current law,” James Hohman, fiscal policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, explained to The Center Square. “With fewer Senate seats and less frequent Senate elections, only a handful of people ever make it to 14 years of service. In fact, most legislators leave because of the three-term limit in the House,” he said.
“Moving to a 12-year-in-any-chamber limit will likely lead to more House members serving longer terms,” Hohman continued. “We’ve seen this in California, which passed similar changes to term limits in 2012. House members there are serving longer now that they’re allowed 12 years in either chamber.”
The Michigan chapter of the Association of Building Contractors trade group endorsed the measure.
Jimmie Greene, ABC president, told The Center Square in an email the current six/eight/14 term-limit system, which has been in place since 1994, “doesn’t work.” He added: “It’s terrible for citizens who, in my opinion, are robbed of an opportunity to be represented by competent, effective legislators while still retaining the voting power to remove them at the voters’ displeasure.”
Greene continued: “There are few professions that remove someone at the peak of their learning curves and that’s what term limits do. With all the back patting people do to applaud good legislation, in many respects it’s hastily done and purely across partisan lines. And that vicious half-ass process starts the clock all over again in 6/8 years. Even good policy isn’t framed from relational politics which makes getting to great policy virtually impossible. But I’m a realist and understand that eliminating term limits isn’t a fight I’ll win but Proposal One is a compromise I can live with. “
David Forsmark, president of political consulting group Winning Strategies, told The Center Square that Michigan’s term limits are among the lowest in the nation.
“The upside of the proposal is that it would give stability to each chamber, and theoretically would lead to people who actually know what they are doing [and] getting things done. At the moment, the leader of each chamber is at most going to be someone who has only been there for four years, particularly in the House,” he said.
Forsmark said incumbent candidates usually have an advantage, but Michigan’s term limits are too restrictive.
“Term limits aren’t a bad thing, but .. the churn doesn’t help with complicated issues like Probate Court reform,” Forsmark said. “By the time the legislature gets its mind around the inherent injustice and overreach of the guardianship system, a new crew comes in and the lifetime judges start in on neutralizing the newbies.”
Forsmark noted the state’s new redistricting map also necessitates a rethinking of legislative term limits.
“With the abomination of the current map, which splits even the smallest communities and scatters representatives all over the place, people would possibly get to know who their representative is and be able to hold them accountable,” he said.
The amendment, if passed, would also require annual financial disclosure reports from public officeholders, which would require all information on income, assets, liabilities, gifts from lobbyists, positions held in certain organizations and agreements on future employment.
“Voting Yes on Proposal 1 means more transparency and stricter term limits,” Greene said. “Michigan voters have been kept in the dark for far too long. We have no clue how our most powerful elected officials make their money because Michigan is one of only two states in the nation that doesn’t require state elected officials to disclose their finances or conflicts of interest. This reform will make our politicians accountable to the people.”
Greene said public opinion polling shows 80% of Michigan voters support Proposal One.
Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.
Photo “Michigan Capitol” by MittenStatePhototog. CC BY 2.0.