Time to relax term limits in Michigan

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 12:38 AM EDT
Time to relax term limits in Michigan story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - it’s been more than two decades now that we the people imposed term limits on elected officials.

In Michigan, it's three two-year terms for representatives, and two four-year terms for senators.

Now there is another effort underfoot to relax those limits. And tonight, in Tom’s Corner, Tom Van Howe says that while voters have turned a deaf ear to similar proposals over the years, maybe now its time to pay attention.

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A friend of mine, the late Senator Glenn Steil, of Grand Rapids, mustered the forces necessary 21 years ago to impose the term limits on those who get elected to make laws for our state.

His reasoning was simple—there were too many career politicians drawing power, money, and prestige from the offices they held while, all the while, tending to ignore the reasons they ran for office in the first place.

Limiting them to a relatively short time in office, he thought, would put that syndrome to rest and provide plenty of new blood and fresh enthusiasm to our state government. It was a gutsy thing to do. And we the people—long weary of fat cats in office—bought it.

But it didn’t take very long for Mr. Steil to start thinking—and then believing—that he’d made a mistake. A big one. All of a sudden the halls were filled with well-meaning rookies who, in his view, weren’t ready or equipped to develop leadership skills with the institutional acumen to deal with the increasingly complex issues the state was and is facing.

Since then a number of legislators have tried to generate support for relaxing those limits... But they by and large fell flat.

Now a Holland representative, Joe Haveman, is once again hoisting the flag to see if he can make it fly.

He’ll be term-limited out of office in the fall and understands that he, and the 50 other legislators who are co-signing it, can’t benefit from it. It’s only for the new faces who walk in the door every two years.

“Frankly,” he told me this morning, “those of us in our third terms have just hit the ground running. We’re just learning how to do our jobs. Everything is finally clicking. And then in the fall... When all of us at at our peak... We’re out of office.  Term limits was a good experiment. It just doesn’t work.”

Haveman concedes that with all the inexperience, legislators wind up leaning heavily—not on experienced politicians—but on bureaucrats and lobbyists to find their way through the lawmakers maze.

“Believe it or not,” he said, “there’s a huge learning curve in those first two terms. There are so many issues and they’re so complex. It takes time.”

So Haveman’s bill would add another term to the House—making it eight years there—and then allow a term limited representative to run for the Senate for another eight years—for a total of 16.

I’d do it a little differently.

If it were up to me, I’d make it 12 years in either chamber with no opportunity for crossing over.

Twelve years in either house is plenty of time to become effective. And with no crossover there won’t be any 24-year office holders. We the people don’t want career politicians roaming the halls of Lansing. But we do want people who can offer experience and continuity. We deserve that.

Think about it: what other industry fires its people just as they are starting to blossom and become truly productive?

And political observers agree that a lack of experience often leads to backs-to-wall partisanship—something we need less of, not more.

In order for there to be a change—we have to vote on it. And for that to happen it has to be on the ballot. If Haveman and his colleagues are serious, they’ll find a way to do just that. Sooner than later.

After two decades, relaxing term limits in Michigan is an idea whose time has come.

In this corner...I’m Tom Van Howe.Time to relax term limits in Michigan
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