[APRIL 1, 1998] In November 1992 Michigan voters approvedby the
sizable margin of 5941 percentan amendment to the state constitution that
limits the number of terms a person may serve in various public offices. These lifetime
limits affect officeholders sworn into office on or after January 1, 1993.
to two terms are governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state,
attorney general, and state senators (terms of office are four years).
to three terms are state representatives (term of office is two years).
served need not be consecutive, and if less than half a term is served
in an office, it does not count toward the limitation.
Note that limits are not imposed on
the number of offices in which a person may serveonly on the number of terms
s/he may serve in each.
Term limits began in reaction to
Franklin Delano Roosevelts four elections as president. In 1947 Congress proposed an
amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting a president to two terms. A sufficient number
of states ratified the action, and in 1951 it was formalized as the Twenty-second
For the next 40 years, term
limitation received little attention. Then, in 1989, in Oklahoma a term limitation
movement began that was aimed at congressional, state legislative, and state executive
offices. It was fueled by people who believe that too many officeholders are in office too
long and that long political careers are unhealthy to a representative democracy. The
movement has spread, and today 20 states, including Michigan, limit legislative service,
affecting more than one-third of the nations 7,424 state legislative seats.
Long tenure in state public office
was rare until recent times. In Michigan, prior to 1900 only 11 people had served more
than six years in the House (the current maximum length of service). No popularly elected
governor, whose term of office then was two years, had served longer than four. Prior to
1993, the Michigan Constitution had only twice limited any term of office: In the 1835 and
1850 constitutions, a sheriff was prohibited from holding office longer than four of any
As the complexity, size, and
salaries of government grew, political figures tended to stay in state offices for longer
periods. Between 1948 and 1982, governors G. Mennen Williams (a Democrat) and William G.
Milliken (a Republican) served 12 and 14 years, respectively. In 1990 the average tenure
in the Michigan Senate and House was 11 and 10 years, respectively, and 10 lawmakers had
served more than 20 years.
Modern reelection rates for
incumbent legislators average well above 90 percent. From 1967 to 1990, in 1,210 primary
contests for the Michigan House, only 28 incumbents lost; in the same number of general
elections, just 32 incumbents lost. During the same years, in 190 primary and 190 general
elections for the Michigan Senate, only 10 and 6 incumbents, respectively, lost their
The three-term limit on state
representatives took effect in 1992, and the 1998 elections will be the first in which
incumbents are forced off the ballot. At this writing, 64 of the 110 Michigan House
members are ineligible to seek reelection. Incumbent senators are not affected by the
two-term limitation until the 2002 election nor are the governor and other statewide
Legislature turnover could reach 70
percent or more in election years in which the number of term-limited members peaks. For
example, in the 2010 elections, there could be as many as 78 openings in the state House
of Representatives and 32 in the Senatedue largely to term limits but also to
defeats and retirements.
Michigans 1992 amendment also
would have limited Michigan members of the (1) U.S. House of Representatives to three
terms in any 12-year period and (2) U.S. Senate to two terms in any 24-year period, but
the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (54) that individual states do not have the right to
limit length of service of members of Congress. Article I, section 5, of the U.S.
Constitution states that "Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and
qualifications of its own members."
The U. S. Supreme Court has yet to
rule on the constitutionality of term limits imposed on state offices.
In a statewide survey Public Sector Consultants,
Inc., conducted shortly after the 1992 general election in Michigan, respondents reasoned
that term limits will
new ideas and people to state government,
politicians to do what is right rather than what is popular,
interest group influence, and
politicians more in touch with the citizenry.
Respondents also suggested that term
their ultimate right to keep or oust a public official,
an electoral system that was working, and
their legislative district to lose the clout of longevity (senior
members of a legislature frequently chair committees and exert greater
influence over legislation and appropriations).
Supporters of term limits believe
that people too often treat public office as a career rather than a service. They contend
that because the salaries and benefits are attractive, a permanent, professional class of
politicians has evolvedfar from the countrys founders vision that
citizen legislators would dedicate themselves for short periods to public
servicewhich has led to politicians getting out of touch with ordinary citizens and
becoming cozy with special interests.
Term limit opponents argue that the
complexity of legislation and public policy requires considerable experience and
professionalism. They believe it naive to think that someone who has no government
experience can be effective. They fear that with so many new people arriving in the state
capital, special interests actually will gain influence; the repository of institutional
memory and knowledge about policy and process will be lobbyists rather than officeholders.
Opponents also argue that term
limits violate democracys basic premise that voters have the ultimate power to
select who represents them. They believe that by artificially forcing certain incumbents
off the ballot, term limits deprive voters of their inherent right to choose; the best way
to get the attention of unresponsive politicians is to vote them out of office, not deny
them the right to face voters.
Champions of term limits take the
position that officeholder turnover will freshen politics, giving new people a chance to
serve and new ideas a chance to take hold in policy. Too often, they say, incumbents
routinely are reelected because they enjoy high name recognition and typically can raise
campaign funds more easily than can challengers, and this frequently has robbed elections
of serious competition. As the Wall Street Journal editorialized in 1990,
The Founding Fathers intended that
spirited political contests would limit the ability of an officeholder or party to
accumulate power, make it easy for outsiders to enter politics, and minimize corruption.
They would hardly recognize the current U.S. House of Representatives, where the biennial
turnover of 7 percent is barely above that of the 5 percent in the British House of Lords,
where a seat becomes vacant only at death.
To opponents of term limits, large
turnover, particularly in legislative bodies, will bring wild swings in partisan and
ideological control. They fear that turnover will undermine stability in public policy,
lead to far more mistakes in writing law, reduce productivity, and reward passion over
reason. Also, with fewer senior officeholders around to share their knowledge and
experience, they see more power being vested with unelected and unaccountable people,
including staff members, lobbyists, and government appointees and career employees.
Opponents worry, too, that term
limits will weaken collegiality among legislatorsand the trust and give-and-take
that grow from association of some lengthan important part of writing law that is in
the best interests of the entire state, not just the residents of one legislative
district. They are concerned that leaders will be weak, virtually lame ducks the moment
they are elected to posts such as Speaker of the House, Senate majority leader, or
appropriations committee chair. Without strong leadership, it will be hard to form
majorities on key issues, hold political party members in line, and maintain appropriate
Patrick L. Anderson
[Chairman, Term Limits Defense Committee]
Anderson Economic Group
416 West Ionia Street
Lansing, MI 48933
(517) 485-2550 FAX
William Ballenger, Editor and
Inside Michigan Politics
2029 South Waverly Road
Lansing, MI 48917
(517) 487-3830 FAX
Honorable Maxine Berman
[Former state representative]
24213 Evergreen Road
Southfield, MI 48075
Robert LaBrandt, Senior Vice
President of Political Affairs and General Counsel
Michigan Chamber of Commerce
600 South Walnut Street
Lansing, MI 48933
(517) 371-7224 FAX
John Mogk, Professor
[Attorney representing challenges to term limits]
Wayne State University Law School
468 West Ferry Street
Detroit, MI 48202
(313) 577-8424 FAX
320 Nancy Bird Lane
Oxford, MI 48371
CONTENT CURRENT AS OF
APRIL 1, 1998.
Public Sector Consultants, Inc.