The election proposal to limit the term in Michigan has been criticized as “misleading”. Is it?
LANSING — Would a recently released voting proposal in Michigan increase or decrease term limits for state legislators?
Depends how you look at it.
Voters for Transparency and Term Limits — a bipartisan petitioning group seeking an amendment to the state constitution — correctly notes that the measure cuts the total time an official can serve in the legislature from 14 to 12 years.
But supporters of Michigan’s current term limit law say the voting measure would allow lawmakers to serve longer in the chamber to which they are elected. That is also correct.
Under Michigan’s current term limit rules, introduced in 1992, state legislators can serve up to six years or three two-year terms in the House of Representatives and up to eight years or two four-year terms in the Senate. A legislature who achieves the term limit in one chamber may choose to run in the other chamber.
Not all are in favor of current term limits. In 1992, the statute of limitations law won 59 percent of voters in favor, while the other 41 percent voted against.
Critics of current term-limit regulations have argued that the relatively short terms in office in the House or Senate prevent lawmakers from developing real expertise before they have to leave. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said in 2019 he would like to scrap or extend term limits, arguing that elections served as “natural term limit”.
The proposed constitutional amendment would replace that system and instead allow a future lawmaker to serve a maximum of 12 years in either the House or Senate. Incumbents in the current legislature would be exempt from this rule and would instead be able to serve the maximum number of years in their respective chambers.
In addition, the proposed voting measure would subject nationally elected officials — such as the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and lawmakers — to stricter personal finance disclosure rules.
Supporters of the petition have argued that the proposal would strengthen Michigan’s transparency laws and create a standardized cap on statutory provisions. The overall cap of 12 years, they argue, lowers the current maximum of 14 years combined between both chambers.
“Our belief is that setting an annual limit is simpler and less complicated and would impose a standard that is the same for everyone and (the limit) will be lower overall,” campaign spokesman Joshua Pugh told Bridge Michigan after the state board of Canvassers approved the petition summary and format on Wednesday.
However, opponents say the petitioners are “misleading” voters, arguing the measure lowers the ceiling on statutory provisions. Critics argue the proposal would allow members of the House and Senate to serve almost double their current terms, giving incumbents more time to build political influence and allowing former members who have been fired to to run again for her previous position.
“We and the majority of Michigan citizens will oppose lifting the current term limits and replacing them with one that would allow both current lawmakers to serve up to twice as long and allow former lawmakers to come back,” he said Patrick Anderson, who helped draft the language of current term limits legislation in 1992, Bridge said on Wednesday.
Michigan’s 14-year overall cap is already one of them strictest in 15 states with statutory term limits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Supporters of the ballot measure argue that the current rules force lawmakers to constantly plan their next appearance and resulted in high turnover in the legislature, while the petition would allow incumbents to stay in a single chamber longer and focus on to focus their work.
The proposed 12-year restrictions would mirror the systems in California and Oklahoma. Mark Gaffney, co-chair of the petitions group, told the Board of Canvassers on Wednesday the goal isn’t to “abolish” term limits, as Anderson argued, but to produce “better lawmakers.”
“We would have better lawmakers under this configuration,” Gaffney said Wednesday. “I believe this proposal maintains term limits. Overall, it changes the total time that can be served, allows for more time in a chamber and changes formulas, but reduces the actual number of years lawmakers can serve.”
But critics say the turnover is precisely the point of the term limit – to create more opportunities for new entrants.
“The term limits ensure that every now and then there’s a vacancy … so people run into those incumbents at those intervals,” said Scott Tillman, national field director for U.S. term limits.
The petition would give incumbents more benefits as their time in the chamber increases and make it harder to expose corruption, he argued. The reason lawmakers, staffers and advisers are cracking down on former House Speaker Lee Chatfield, who is being investigated over allegations of sexual assault and financial inadequacy, Tillman said, is because Chatfield is no longer in power.
“Nobody covers up corruption for their boss because their boss will be gone,” Tillman said. “You will still have corruption, but it will be exposed very quickly.”
Kurt O’Keefe, a bankruptcy attorney working with Tillman and Anderson against the petition, told Bridge the measure would not produce “better lawmakers,” as Gaffney argued.
“You won’t have better legislators,” O’Keefe said. “You’re going to have the same legislators in the house for basically twice as long.”
Tillman and O’Keefe told Bridge that they were both members of “Don’t touch term limits‘, a Michigan coalition that toured the state in 2019 with a giant pig sculpture in support of term limits rules. The coalition has not formed an election committee, but Tillman suggested on Wednesday that he could start raising funds to fight the election measure.
“I’ll probably go to US Term Limits and ask them if they’re willing to help us raise funds,” Tillman said.