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Stateside: Should term limits be overturned?

Michigan State Capitol building, in Lansing.
mattileo / flickr
Michigan State Capitol building, in Lansing.

In a recent Detroit Free Press article, Paul Egan analyzed the effect term limits have on lawmakers’ decisions.

According to Egan, lawmakers often focus more on their next career move than the pressing decisions of the moment.

Term limits were created 20 years ago in Michigan, and now they are under scrutiny.

Stateside’s Cyndy Canty spoke with Paul Egan and Jack Lessenberry about the state’s need to overturn the term limits.

Canty began the interview by asking how the term limits got sold to the public.

“Well, one of the main ways was the idea of the ‘citizen lawmaker.’ Somebody would leave their farm, go to the center of government for a few years and then return home. We wanted to test whether that idea has been realized and we found that is has not,” said Egan.

The term limits were also intended to eliminate the pattern of familial dynasties in politics. According to both Egan and Lessenberry, they have not effectively diminished the appearance of dynasties in Michigan politics.

“Well you certainly couldn’t give it a passing grade on that. Just on the issue that it was intended for members of Congress as well. It centered more on Congress than the state of Michigan. Term limits have actually encouraged many dynasties at the state level,” said Egan.

To the regret of various lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, voters’ power has shifted to the hands of lobbyists

“Well, a number of lawmakers told me that they are forced to rely on lobbyists. One Republican lawmaker said they voted in favor of term limits in 1992 and told me they would take their vote back. They feel that the move has diminished the voters’ control over what happens because they have mandated inexperience in the Legislative Branch which has shifted power to both the Executive Branch and the lobbyists on the outside,” said Egan.

But is there an increase in manufactured legislation where lobbyists are offering verbiage that is being passed into bills?

“In the late 70’s, there were about ten people on each side that had been there 30 years, they had a certain loyalty above party to the state of Michigan. People would find a way of getting things done. That doesn’t happen as much anymore," said Lessenberry.

Egan said the main issue voters need to understand is the concept of a 'revolving door' in Michigan politics.

“The revolving door issue in Michigan, we’ve found a number of instances where committee chairman, as their terms expired walked directly into lobbying jobs into industries that were part of their committee responsibilities. In no case can we say there was a direct quid pro-quo, but because of the volume of these instances it certainly raises question. Many states have revolving door legislation. There was a bill that passed the House but not the Senate in Michigan that would require a two year period before a lawmaker could register as a lobbyist,” said Egan.

When asked whether term limits should be overturned, Lessenberry was direct.

“They should absolutely be overturned tomorrow. If you got rid of term limits and put in a non-partisan commission that draws state legislative boundaries we would be fine,” said Lessenberry.

-Cameron Stewart

There are two ways you can podcast "Stateside with Cynthia Canty"

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