Proposed Constitutional Amendment a Transparent Fraud

Posted In: Politics, State, Opinion,   From Issue 927   By: Greg Schmid

17th March, 2022     0

Current Term Limits - Term Limits were imposed on the legislature in 1992 by a voter approved constitutional amendment and set separate term limits for the House of Representatives (110 members) and Senate (38 members). House members are limited to 3 two-year terms. Members of the Senate are limited to 2 four-year terms.

Proposed Term Limits - proposed measure would repeal the separate 3 term limit for House of Representatives and 2 term limit for Senate, and would replace these distinct term limits with an overall 12-year total limit on terms in either or both houses combined. The new limit would apply to both current and former term limited legislators, who would be allowed to run again. The measure would also require statewide officeholders to file public financial disclosures and transaction reports after 2023.

Voters for Transparency and Term Limits,” is anything but; it is not transparent, and is certainly not for term limits. This insider group proposes a fake transparency measure that is a transparent trick – an excuse to seek a constitutional amendment that would serve their real purpose of undermining voter-imposed term limits for legislators, and allow certain term limited politicians to return to power.

Backers of the proposal are former Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rich Studley, ex-Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Republican former House Speaker Jase Bolger. Bolger was already caught with his hand in the cookie jar last week when he acknowledged that the proposal contained an unadvertised loophole that would make him eligible for several more terms in the House of Representatives.

In 1992 Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved term limits on all statewide elected officials to open government to citizen candidates locked out of politics by a political class that held stranglehold on public policy. Term limits served as a structural barrier to the corrupting influence of entrenched incumbency, and the influence peddling that resulted from special interest lobbyists investing in long term “pay to play” relationships with incumbent officials, knowing that those investments would pay huge dividends over many years.

As a young lawyer in the pre-term limits era, I worked with my father and many friends to pass Term Limits; we were motivated by the disconnect between the state legislature and the voters. Voters had relatively few options at the ballot box since incumbents nearly always won re-election and were hardly ever challenged once in office.

In those days George Montgomery and Dominic Jacobetti (a 32-year incumbent nicknamed Godfather) dominated the legislature and were the undisputed kings of Michigan’s lawmakers. Back then, no bill would progress through the legislature without their blessing because their seniority gave them effective veto power – they could stall a bill in committee until it died a natural death at the end of the session.

This concentration of such power in a handfuls of individuals effectively rigged public policy. In those days Michigan had the best government that money could buy, and public policy was effectively doled out to the highest bidder.

Michigan’s Term limits were carefully crafted to break up the committee-chair seniority system that controls the flow of proposed legislation through the legislature, by limiting the number of terms a legislator could serve in each house. Seniority is measured by the number of terms served in a single chamber of the legislature. Term limits were not so concerned with the total years of service in the legislature as they were with preventing legislators from amassing excessive seniority in their own chamber, and thereby becoming power brokers dominating fellow legislators.

Term limits allows legislators who are termed-out in the house of representatives (three two-year terms allowed) to run for the senate (two three-year terms allowed), and vice versa, but for a legislator to change from one chamber to the other starts the seniority clock over, and so frustrates the seniority that gives an entrenched incumbent real power within their chamber. Seniority in one office does not extend to the second. 

The state house and state senate are two distinct offices in our constitution, and they have different roles and responsibilities. The offices have overlapping but different electorates and districts. Running for a second office does not wield the club of incumbency, and may even require a competitive primary, usually absent when staying in a single office.  It may even require running against an incumbent.

Petition sponsors falsely market their term limits “fix” of 12 years’ service in either house as “reducing” the number of years an incumbent can serve by selling the false notion that Michigan’s term limits are now 14 years. Under current term limits lawmakers serve an average number of years in the legislature of about half that.

In fact, very few legislators in Michigan complete 14 years overall service under current term limits of 3 terms in the house plus 2 terms in the senate; they seldom even try to make the move from House to Senate because there is most often another entrenched incumbent running for re-election who can easily beat back a challenger. It's not possible for most members to serve 14 years. There simply isn't enough room in the very small 38-member Senate. The vast majority of them term out of the House and never see the Senate.

The practical effect of this proposal will be doubling House term limits to 12 years.

The backers of the proposal know that 12 years in the legislature (six terms in the house or three terms in the senate) is not a stricter term limit but a weaker one, and would  give legislators more seniority to work with as political insiders invest campaign contributions to the grateful candidates they pay for access and influence; and under the new term limits proposal virtually all incumbents will stay in office a full 12 years.

Further, this proposal resets term limits for former legislators, enabling potentially hundreds of career politicians to return to the legislature. And while Officeholder Disclosure of financial relations is a laudable goal, it could be accomplished by a simple majority of the legislature, without the need for a constitutional amendment.

But weakening term limits can only be accomplished through a voter approved constitutional amendment, and that is the real goal of the group of political insiders sponsoring this petition drive. This transparency measure is an obvious distraction – a trojan horse meant to keep voters off guard to the power grab being perpetrated right before their eyes.

In fact, the sponsors will very likely not do a petition drive at all; they know very well that they have started the process two months later than all the other petition drives, and won’t get petitions on the street in time to get their signatures by the July 11 deadline, if they can even hire petition gatherers in the first place.

Their likely strategy is to use the pretense of a citizen driven petition drive, then cite Covid 19 difficulties, or the poison pill they have left in the petition language which allows former legislators to run for office again,  to convince the all too eager incumbents in the Michigan legislature to place the proposal on the ballot with a 2/3 majority vote of the legislature, then bypass the $10 million dollar expense of a petition drive and use their money instead to convince Michigan voters to second guess themselves at the ballot box.

Michigan voters should correctly see any referral by the legislature as the fox watching the hen house. And if term limits are so bad, then why are they only proposing to eliminate term limits on legislators, and not on the Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General?

Watering down Term Limits with a combined years of service option for incumbent legislators would double the number of times a person could run for the house of representatives and result in fewer candidates serving longer careers in the legislature, with helpless voters having less input in the process of their selection.

The political class wants more, and more enduring, power. They want to win one election and then coast along amassing seniority and influence. Changing term limits is not the answer to improving the legislature.

Don’t touch term limits!



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