The Shocking Truth About Term Limits

Posted: Oct 08, 2017 12:00 AM
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

“Michigan’s strictest-in-the-nation term limits law will force nearly 70 percent of state senators out of office in 2019 and more than 20 percent of representatives,” reports the Detroit News, “a mass turnover that is fueling renewed interest in reform.”

What?!! Could term limitation laws actually make our poor underpaid and overworked politicians vacate their powerful perches . . . even when they don’t want to?

Heaven forbid!

Who could have foreseen this strange turn of events? Who could have predicted that limits on the number of terms politicians may stay in office would mandate that politicians, having reached that limit, would be summarily cast out to live like the rest of us?

Who, I ask you, who?

You guessed. Everyone. The “mass turnover” coming after the 2018 election cycle will indeed be caused by term limits. Booted out will be 26 of 38 state senators and 24 of 110 reps in the House.

While this level of turnover is certainly unheard of in the U.S. Congress and the 35 states lacking term limits, it is not so out of the ordinary for Michigan. For instance, the Great Lakes State saw greater turnover in 2010 with 25 senators and 34 representatives termed-out.

Somehow the state survived.

In fact, one clear result of the state’s toughest-in-the-nation term limits law is the state’s best-in-the-nation level of electoral competitiveness. In both the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, Michigan led the nation with every single state legislative seat contested. Michigan’s 100 percent competitiveness in the last two cycles compares to a national average of just 58 percent in 2016 and 57 percent in 2014.

Is it possible that voters are much fonder of competitive elections than are incumbent politicians and powerful lobbyists? Perhaps that is why the “renewed interest in reform” comes not from the state’s citizens, but their politicians.

Oh, and powerful lobbyists and special interests.

The newspaper report continues: “Term limits remain popular with the voting public, but critics say Michigan rules have thrust inexperienced legislators into complex policy issues they may be ill-equipped to address.”

Rich Studley, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s head-honcho, argues that “Leadership really matters, and experience really matters.” His lobbying outfit, “an influential business group with significant financial resources,” is working to organize support for a ballot measure to weaken the limits it has so vehemently opposed for the last 25 years.

Why such fierce opposition? Because term limits supposedly give too much power and influence to . . . (drum roll) . . . lobbyists and special interests.

Like the well-heeled Michigan Chamber.

Whose selflessness apparently knows no bounds.

“We don’t want [the legislature] to be strictly a place,” counters Scott Tillman, national field director of U.S. Term Limits, “where a bunch of people with an incumbent advantage have a lock on the system and are the only ones who can get elected and make decisions for the state.”

“The basic message citizens have given their government for 200 years now has been to have a Legislature full of people who represent citizens,” contends Patrick Anderson, the author of the 1992 term limits measure. “To do that effectively, you want to make sure that those legislators are periodically drawn from the citizenry, and term limits ensures that.”

Taking the opposite point of view is Wayne State University Political Science Professor Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson. The author of two books on term limits, she dubs Michigan “the Draconian term limits state,” and claims legislators are ineffective because they have “one eye on that clock all the time instead of thinking, ‘I need to really fix this problem because it’s going to come back to haunt me.’”

Yet, Sarbaugh-Thompson offers no analysis as to why legislators in the non-term-limited states — or the career-dominated Congress in D.C. — are much more hauntingly ineffective. 

“Her research suggests Michigan’s term limits have failed to deliver on many of the ‘good government’ promises that appeal to citizens,” according to the News. What the News neglects to tell readers is that Sarbaugh-Thompson’s “research relies heavily on face-to-face interviews with Michigan’s state House members conducted in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004 and State Senators in 2000, 2006, and 2010.”

Why am I not surprised that “research” centered on the views of incumbent officeholders is not very favorable to limits on incumbent officeholders?

Two things we know for certain: politicians hate term limits; voters love them.

That’s why the News explains, “Any reform plan is unlikely to extend or repeal term limits, but may instead allow legislators to serve longer in the House or Senate.”

Come again? If legislators could serve “longer” than currently allowed, that would clearly “extend” the limits.

However, the political insiders behind the current scheming will want to pretend their attack on term limits is anything but. They are likely to argue that since people can now serve six years in the House and eight years in the Senate, which if they served the full time in both chambers (few do) would be 14 years, allowing 14 years in the House or 14 years in the Senate wouldn’t really be much different.

They’re lying. We know because their lips are moving. Such a change would dramatically re-entrench incumbency and undermine the competitiveness that term limits have created.

Michigan citizens, beware: The stench of a very rotten scam is now swirling through the dark corridors of the capitol in Lansing.

For all other Americans, just take a moment to imagine what would be the result if the U.S. Congress were beset with Michigan’s “mass turnover.” That would mean giving the heave-ho to 68 out of the current 100 U.S. Senators and 95 of the 435 incumbent Representatives in the House.


As the song goes, “It’s easy if you try.”

And fun