Paul Jacob

Republicans in Arkansas, Missouri and Montana are trying to gut the term limits laws passed by voters in those states.

Wait, that's not quite exactly accurate. Most Republicans in Arkansas, Missouri and Montana love term limits.

There appears to be something of a disconnect.

You see, the Republicans working to destroy term limits were elected by and represent the Republicans who love term limits. Make sense now?

Apparently, people become politicians very quickly. And once given a taste of power, politicians tend to want more. And more. And more still.

“If our American society and United States Government are overthrown,” President Abraham Lincoln stated, “it will come from the voracious desire for office, this wriggle to live without toil, work, and labor — from which I am not free myself.”

Politicians, whether an R or a D gets slapped up next to their names, don’t much care for term limits (or for any limits whatsoever, come to think of it). Regular folks, by whopping majorities and regardless of party or political philosophy — and no matter how you slice-and-dice them demographically — support term limits as a common sense way to reduce corruption and bring new people and new ideas into our political process.

Still, it seems odd that, with Republicans struggling at the national level to find solid footing with a majority of voters, state legislators in three increasingly red states would be openly attacking arguably the most popular grassroots issue in modern political discourse.

In “the Natural State,” Republicans have taken control of both Houses of the Legislature this year for the first time in well over a century — since Reconstruction. Yet, the celebration had hardly begun when Senate Bill 821, undermining the state’s voter initiative process, began to move. As I asked in a column, “Will Arkansas Republicans throw this monkey wrench into Arkansas’s long, proud tradition of initiative and referendum? Will they allow this law to pass on their very first watch?”

That bill has passed the Senate and is still pending in the House. But now a new attack on the public, House Joint Resolution 1009, has been launched. Disguised as an ethics amendment, the legislation just incidentally happens to contain a small provision weakening the state legislative term limits to allow politicians to stay 16 years in the House or 16 years in the Senate, rather than the six-year House and eight-year Senate limits passed by voters in 1992. Those original limits were upheld by an even bigger vote, when legislators tried to weaken them through a similar amendment in 2004.

A 16-year term-limit? That’s really what Arkansas’s first GOP-controlled General Assembly in more than a century intends to produce for the people?

Nice trick, too . . . to hide the gutting of term limits in a so-called ethics amendment, which is supposed to rein in bad behavior.

It’s no surprise that the ethics portion is a complete sham as well.

“To win approval from the legislature,” writes Max Brantley in the Arkansas Times, “the ethics measure was amended into worthlessness. It gives constitutional protection to junkets and expense account dining on the lobby’s tab and it also gives legislators a way to stay longer in the legislature at higher pay.”

The constitutional amendment would actually make it easier for legislators to wrangle pay increases. Rather than having a public vote to approve any pay hike, HJR 1009 allows politicians to appoint their buddies to a “citizens commission” to set pay for those same politicians — without any vote of the people.

And staying around for 16 years will mean politicians get more pay for more time, and more pension benefits to boot.

The term limits gutting amendment, HJR 1009, has passed the House, with GOP representatives voting 3-to-1 in favor. It now awaits action in the Senate.

To give Show-Me state legislators more than their due, they claim to be merely “tweaking” term limits, just trying gallantly to make Missouri’s limits work better. The little, itty bitty tweak? House Joint Resolution 4 doubles the amount of time an incumbent can serve in either the state’s House or Senate — from the current eight-year limit to a 16-year “limit.”

“I really emphasize that we’re not extending term limits,” says the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Myron Neth (R-Liberty)


The bill has already passed the House by a whopping 121 to 31 votes. (Republicans enjoy a better than 2-to-1 majority in both legislative chambers.)

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rep. Neth told senators now considering the bill “that under his proposed change, members who accumulate expertise in complex areas, such as the budget, could keep their seniority rather than trying to move to the other chamber and start over.”

HJR 4 will re-create the dreaded seniority system in Missouri. And while touted as a way to decrease lobbyist influence over supposedly “green” legislators, the only supporters seem to be legislators and — you guessed it — lobbyists.

Politicians in Montana’s GOP-controlled legislature are livid with their state’s voters. Why? The voters did not make their term limits tough enough.

Seriously? Well, at least, they’re pretending to be serious.

Montana’s current law limits legislators to eight years in office, either in a House or Senate seat. After serving eight years, a person must sit out for eight years before he or she can run for that office again.

That’s not tough enough, apparently.

Under Montana House Bill 277, legislators would be banned for life once they hit the limit. But HB 277 also changes the base limit, doubling the current eight-year cut-off to allow pols to stay for 16 straight years.

How is doubling the limit really making it tougher?

Well, no matter how many times politicians and lobbyists explain, we less experienced citizens can’t seem to understand.

The constitutional amendment has already passed both Houses of the Legislature, but because of a Senate amendment, both chambers must now agree on a final version and again garner a two-thirds vote.

Back in 2004, Montanans slapped down the last weasel-like attack against their term limits law. They’ll likely do it again, should HB 277 pass and be placed on the 2014 ballot.

Republican voters everywhere who love term limits ought to make it plain to their Republican legislators that any messing around with those limits will result in an even swifter end to their tenure in office. And fast. Otherwise, these Republican legislators will be applying a new brand to the Grand Old Party that will be staring voters right in the face on their 2014 ballot.     [further reading]

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.