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Posted on Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 10 a.m.

It's time to extend legislative term limits in Michigan

By Tony Dearing


The current system of term limits for lawmakers has not resulted in a Legislature that's any more effective. If anything, it's only increased the power of lobbyists and bureaucrats in the state Capitol.

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A report circulated in Lansing earlier this year suggested what many observers of state government already knew: term limits have been no blessing in Michigan.

The report, compiled by the Michigan Society of Association Executives, concluded that after 20 years, the current system of term limits for lawmakers has not resulted in a Legislature that’s any more effective, and if anything, it’s only increased the power of lobbyists and bureaucrats in the state Capitol.

That reality may help explain why voters in California - which had a system similar to ours - have just extended term limits. We renew our call for the people of Michigan to do the same.

The result has been partisanship and, quite often, political paralysis. Novice lawmakers cycle through the Legislature so quickly that they barely have time to learn the ropes and gain experience before they’re replaced by yet another wave of newbies

We are not contending that term limits have been a complete bust, or that they should be eliminated. The days of legislator-for-life in Michigan are gone, and we don’t want them back.

But if the old system allowed politicians in certain safe districts to remain in office far too long, the problem with the current term limits is that they’re too short. Under the term limit proposal approved by Michigan voters in 1992, a lawmaker may serve no more than three two-year terms (a total of six years) in the state House and no more than two four-year terms (a total of eight years) in the Senate.

The result, in our view, is a less experienced Legislature that puts too much of a premium on partisanship. We find this to be particularly true of the House of Representatives. When you turn over the entire membership of that chamber every six years, nobody serves long enough to develop the leadership, the relationships and the institutional knowledge necessary to address complex issues and achieve compromises that move legislation forward.

The result has been partisanship and, quite often, political paralysis. Novice lawmakers cycle through the Legislature so quickly that they barely have time to learn the ropes and gain experience before they’re replaced by yet another wave of newbies.

California has been through similar legislative churn, and people there evidently have had enough of it. After rejecting two previous efforts to reform term limits in 2002 and 2008, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot proposal this month that will allow a lawmaker to serve up to 12 years in either the House or Senate. Supporters of the idea say it will allow legislators to gain more experience by serving longer in the same office. “The status quo is broken,’’ a spokeswoman for the League of Women Voters told The Los Angeles Times.

We acknowledge that term limit reform could be a tough sell in Michigan. Term limits have been a popular concept here over the years, according to opinion polls. But efforts for reform have been made in the past, and will continue.

When we editorialized on this topic in 2010, the Ann Arbor-based Center for Michigan was conducting an online petition drive asking lawmakers to put the issue before voters. In 2011, state Rep. Sharon Tyler, R-Niles, offered a plan that would limit a lawmaker to serving no more than 14 years, but allow him or her to serve that tenure in either chamber.

With the shift in voter mood in California, talk of term limit reform has been revived here in Michigan. Last week, state Sen. John Pappageorge, R-Troy , told Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio that he hoped Michigan would follow California’s lead by tweaking the system to allow somewhat longer terms here.

There’s been less gridlock of late in Lansing, but not because of greater statesmanship or bipartisanship. Whether you agree or disagree with what has been accomplished over the past year and a half, most of it has been rammed through by a GOP majority. The underlying inexperience and sectarianism in the Legislature remains.

In the long run, we think the public would be better served by a more seasoned and less partisan group of lawmakers. Extending term limits to 12 years in either chamber seems reasonable, and voters ought to have a chance to consider a proposal along those lines. We don’t know any industry that gives people just enough time to learn their job and then throws them out. The Legislature shouldn’t either.

(This editorial was published in today's newspaper and represents the opinion of the Editorial Board at


Lloyd Payer

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

they will all stay as long as they can reap in bribies from lobbiest when that stops they leave


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 7:04 p.m.

The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that there's a mess in Lansing. But are term limits the remedy that will straighten out the mess? The more likely premise is that we have a minority running our state. Of course, when the majority (S.E. Lower Michigan Dems) were running things we were no more happy, were we? Well... maybe it's the abandonment of accountability and the obligation to find solutions which are best for the majority (and not just for the money-shoveling minority). But how do we create a legislative mandate for rationality and reason? If we had a hundred Teddy Roosevelt clones in Lansing, would we still want to throw them all out of office after one term? I think not, such a corps would hold fast to the principle that their sole duty is to the common interests of the citizens of this state and we could no more fire them than we could fire our own brothers and sisters.


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

The before term limits group got us into this mess. School funding, under funded pensions, lack of a transportation plan, energy policy (or lack thereof) too name a few have been festering for years. The current bunch in Lansing can't find their way out of a paper bag. Why would we want them for life? Until we can cast a NO vote for all candidates, term limits will have to do.

Pat Ardner

Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 3:22 p.m.

The terms should be shorter. We need new people more frequently. They old ones get "stale". Terms for both state and federal government offices should be shortened.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 6:40 p.m.

"Stale" can be good. Just being new at the job is nothing. If they don't know how to function at the job, you have nothing but simple answers to all the complicated questions and issues. Just take a look at the current U.S. House of Representatives.

Robert Granville

Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 1:06 p.m.

Part time legislators... we should push for that first.


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 12:45 p.m.

Longer terms will do nothing to improve the quality of governance by those currently in office. What is needed in government is a basic lesson in civics and civility. The lesson in civics would teach them how goverment should work in a democracy and the lesson in civility would teach them how to conduct themselves while being respectful of others.


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 11:02 a.m.

Let's include the cost of benefits and retirement in this discussion. How much does a term limited rep make in retirement...including health care and how much do we spend on a career politician? What is the$$$ cost to the voters in either of these plans.


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 5:14 a.m.

Term limits have been an utter disaster. Rather than extending them, they need to be abolished. Instead of representation that can get things done, we have temporary guest representatives whose incentive is to think only about their next position. The essence of legislative work lies in negotiation, give & take, and bargaining. Our legislators have no incentive to do anything but grandstand, stonewall, and bicker. It's a recipe for disaster. Term limits say we're not smart enough to elect the right people to represent us. I call hogwash. If we don't like the job someone is doing, we'll vote them out. End term limits now!


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 3:34 a.m.

Although there is truth to the need for more cooperation and experience in the legislature, I don't think the partisanship issues will be solved in this way. On need only look at the federal government to see that partisanship has become the norm. Civility and decency seem to have been lost in all branches of government and the media. Maybe it's that we no longer have time to listen to each other anymore.


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 12:48 a.m.

I would agree to getting rid of term limits if the ruling party did not have the power to Jerrymander legislative districts. But the state has been divided up into safe Republican or Democratic districts. Of course there more safe Republican districts than Democratic as the party in power does the Jerrymandering. Now, with safe districts, it's time to get rid of term limits.


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 12:44 a.m.

Nope. The people of Michigan deserve to be rid of clowns like Irwin, Smith, Ouimet and the rest. The tweedle dee and tweedle dum parties can gerrymander their guys all they want; it's still six and out. I don't see people in Michigan voting to overturn that pleasant outcome. The article is very unpersuasive except for professional politicians (like say the Byrum, Smith & Irwin families for example) for whom government office is a family business. People like them are the only ones hurt by. I don't blame wannabe professional pols wanting to have a nice cushy decades long run like Bullard, Pollack, et al had but the rest of us want fresh blood from time to time. Carl Levin and John Dingell have been in congress for decades. What good has it done for us back home? near four decades. What good has it done us?


Tue, Jun 19, 2012 : 1:27 a.m.

@League bus While it's better than nothing Dingell's 2 mill is peanuts. Travel to WV some time. Every darn thing there is named after Senator Robert W. Byrd because he got funding for it. Byrd entered congress the same year as Dingy did too by the way. Same with Levin. Crumbs. Chicken feed. We could do better.


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 12:56 a.m.

I see a bridge on Stadium that would not have gotten Federal funds without Dingell. I know of $2 B that got restored by Levin to the Veterens affairs budget in Bush's last year that was needed for vets healthcare. These are just two examples that affected me and I am sure there are more.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 12:19 a.m.

The thought of extending the duration of legislative terms with these teaparty republicans in power turns my stomach. What have these people done other than mess things up? I think we should have flat 2-year terms and throw all the rascals out.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 10:41 p.m.

It doesn't matter how long the limit is, if nothing gets done, I'd rather it didn't get done by someone who would be forced to move on sooner rather than later. I'd have much more respect for the elected officials if they'd impose upon themselves the same pay, benefits (health care, retirement) that they are trying to force on others. Their benefits should end when their employment ends. I know mine will.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 9:47 p.m.

How about doing something first about the highly partisan districting mechanism where a party turns a voting district into a pretzel to make sure they have an advantage? Write up a formula and let a computer do it. Politicians just want to cheat and cheat and cheat.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

the right wing crack me up on this. They always claim government can be run like a business. They have even nominated Mitt Romney because of his "business" experience. In what business would a boss (voters) demand retirement of their employee (politician) just because they had the job for a specified amount of time. IF they are not performing there is a simple way to fire them. It is called an election. On the other hand, if they are doing their job and REPRESENTING the interests of their district, why should a person in the U.P. who voted for term limits be allowed to tell a voter in Ann Arbor who they can and can not vote for. If you think the Michigan legislature is better today than they were 20 or 30 years ago, I have some land in south Florida I can sell you.


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 1:23 p.m.

Don't forget about the Founders will!! Our right wing friends like to go on and on about "original intent" etc. The Founders did not put term limits in place, John Adams was involved in politics for decades, as were Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Clay and many others.

Basic Bob

Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 9:50 p.m.

Many businesses put age restrictions (a kind of term limits) on their officers and directors. Some mandate that they must retire at 65 or 70. Not so for the Dean of the House, who is well past his prime. Both continuity and turnover have their good points, moderation is the key. Term limits are so short now that there is only turnover.

Jay Thomas

Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

We don't need a professional class of politicians... that's the problem.


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.

Why are politicians the only ones we don't want to be "professional"? Should we have term limits on doctors, mechanics, accountants, lawyers?


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 6:21 p.m.

I'd actually like to vote for decreased term limits .... as in only one term! Politics shouldn't be a career, but a service. Keeping these corrupt people at the capital leads to a life of trying to figure out how to get re-elected, and that shouldn't be. The less time in corruption, the better, so let's all vote to keep these people in office for as short as possible!


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 4:44 p.m.

Keep term limits for reactionary right wing Republicans. Like the ones who won't allow the word v****a to be spoken on the floor of the state legislature.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 7:55 p.m.

Yeaaaa.. you don't understand the reason for the censure. Read more, write less.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 3:58 p.m.

Term limits are inherently anti-democratic. Why can't I vote for who I want, as long as they are otherwise qualified. It's a lazy way to run a republic.


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

SQUID, how is it working? Ask Maddy Maroun.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 6:23 p.m.

We the people decide how long people stay in office, thus it is democracy.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

Term limits are needed to limit the ability of corruption's influence to keep "their" candidates in office indefinitely. Otherwise the government is set up to become like that of too many dictatorships from past and present.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

Ah yes. Terms limits are so handy for removing other people from power, but then so unhandy when you yourself have power.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 6:24 p.m.

Which is a good thing. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

"We are not contending that term limits have been a complete bust, or that they should be eliminated." Well, there's where you're wrong. Term limits were a stupid idea twenty years ago and they're a stupid idea now. Extending them is pointless. It's time to abandon them altogether. The people always have the power to oust legislators who've outstayed their welcome. In that sense, term limits have always existed — serve your constituents or face their wrath at the voting booth.


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

Logic: Legislators are elected by the people. Therefore, without the support of the people, those legislators will not be re-elected. Elections = Term limits. Ergo, imposing artificial term limits is pointless. All of that was in my second paragraph, but apparently you're not the king of reading comprehension.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 6:25 p.m.

Great logic and reasoning, with research and informed thinking using the powerful word, "stupid." You are the king of logic.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 3:01 p.m.

"we think the public would be better served by a more seasoned and less partisan group of lawmakers. " Why do you think that extending term limits will lead to a less partisan group of lawmakers? Where is your evidence for that belief? Is "congressman for life" Dingle less partisan for having been in Congress longer than I have been alive? A "more seasoned" lawmaker simply has more experience at wasting taxpayer money. Why would anyone want more experienced crooks in office?


Mon, Jun 18, 2012 : 1:18 p.m.

We can look to the past, before term limits. Tip O'Neil worked well with the Other Side, as did Bob Dole, Jack Kemp and Ted Kennedy.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

it will not make a difference if they serve 6 or longer. they still will mess it up. once you find out how the system works you are part of the system. both Michigan and Washington are not "we" people they are "i" people.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 2:53 p.m.

Not sure touting California as a model to be followed with a 15.7 billion dollar deficit. Their legislature (dem controlled) fighting with the dem Govenor on how much to cut and hoping a referendum to raise both the sales tax and upper income tax passes with the public in November. We are not talking rocket science here, six to eight years is a long time. The current status of the left coast:

David Briegel

Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

The people's representatives are elected for a term. That is the only limit that is necessary. The problem is the pervasive and corrupting influence of money. Special Interest money participates in this legalized bribery for what they can get from the people's representatives. Until and unless we fix this legalized bribery, nothing will change!


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 10:46 p.m.

Do you know that a former member of the state legislature, if they get hired as a consultant or lobbyist, can go onto the floor of the legislature while it's in session? This isn't an option for other lobbyists that weren't elected. I believe it should be a crime for a lobbyist to make direct contact with an elected official or for an elected official to make direct contact with a lobbyist.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 2:35 p.m.

Perhaps an enterprising lawmaker in Lansing would write a compromise bill that allowed the limited extension of term limits if and only if there were a conjunctive measure to move to a part time legislature.

Jonathan Blutarsky

Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 4:54 p.m.

my idea of what representative government is supposed to be!

Jonathan Blutarsky

Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 4:52 p.m.

having a part time legislature means only people who are independently wealthy can afford to run - not


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.

That might work if Republicans were willing to compromise on anything, but they're not.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

Yea, maybe you can bring that up during the Vagina Monologues on the steps of the Capital on Monday. We need to elect better, more intelligent, more mature legislators, regardless of their terms, who don't confuse debate with childish gimmicks and stunts. We had enough of that during Granholm's 8 years of failure.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 10:23 p.m.

shepard, i'd say before you complain about the mote in someone else's eye, you remove the log from your own. It is the GOP and it's blatant attack on women, culminating with the childish, immature act of silencing a member of the opposition for using the medical term vagina, that humiliates the entire michigan legislative body. I believe she is taking appropriate action in fighting back against these pseudo-religious fakers who were "shocked & abhorred" that she dared reference a woman's body part that is, btw, mentioned in the very legislation that they voted upon/ The continued stupidity and arrogance of republicans in the house is apparent when they continue to shoot themselves in the foot at every opportunity.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 9:04 p.m.

Don;t let facts get in the way of your story. No matter what was being debated, the right wing said we arent going to ALLOW her to speak. THAT is not what happens in a republican democracy. I would say the exact same thing if a dem did it to a republican. The fact is, Michigan is AGAIN the laughing stock of the nation for their idiots who run the legislature.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 7:08 p.m.

We might want to revisit our understanding of how and why Brown humiliated herself and the entire democrat party. ....and why it will continue on Monday and beyond.


Sun, Jun 17, 2012 : 4:47 p.m.

It was a childish stunt to limit a duly elected representative from using language that describes a female body part.