Term Limits

Term Limits -- Term Limits - Utah Legislative Tenure

I asked what people were interested in and the interest seemed to be term limits. I decided to do some initial research and found a good resource on term limits. The states that currently have term limits are:

  • OHIO

In addition I was surprised to find that Utah was on a short list of states where term limits had been enacted and later repealed.

  • UTAH

A little more digging and I learned that Utah enacted term limits by statute in 1994 (just before I was paying close attention to politics) and repealed them in 2003 before they ever affected any legislators (the limit was 12 years and the statute only lasted for 9). So now we know that our Utah legislature is not anxious to limit themselves.

Now I would love to hear from anyone who has experience in the states with term limits. Jason has voiced his unqualified support of the limits in his state. Does anyone else want to share? Are there any opinions on lifetime bans versus limits of consecutive years of service? I am not ready to choose sides on that yet.

I would also be interested to know more about the decision to end limits before they began in Utah. Perhaps Steve Urqhart might have some insights there that he would share (hint – information from 2003, or hints on where to get some would be nice because my short search led to a bunch of dead links).

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About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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21 Responses to Term Limits

  1. Term limits largely came in a wave in 1994. We looked at the experiences in the states where term limits had kicked in and concluded that all they did was more-than-ever entrench the decision makers. Instead of elected people making the decisions and being subject to the voters, the power shifted even more to staff and lobbyists (who remain and have the advantage of institutional knowledge). Especially when it comes to the budget, it is very useful to have elected people in the body who have ridden the ups and downs of an economic cycle and can give some perspective.

    Of course, I realize that people can, and will, argue that we just want to hold the offices for life. That’s their right, and for some legislators it might be true. But people should consider the average lifespan of a legislator. In the House (largely through self-selection), it is right around 4 years. (I heard that number and have never independently verified it; but, it seems accurate. I’ve been there 7 years, and there aren’t many Reps who’ve been there longer than I have).

    In any event, if you believe the newspapers, we’ll have at least 38 new House members after the voucher ordeal.

  2. Jason Black says:

    I’ve frequently heard the argument against term limits that Steve mentioned above – that long-termers, particularly lobbyists, gain greater influence. While I can’t say much about the staff side – I know staffers typically do stick around, bouncing from one office holder to another – I have heard numerous reports about the influence of lobbyists in Missouri.

    Initially people worried that lobbyists would come in and woo legislators with their advanced experience in particular areas, and therefore, newbie legislators ought to heed their counsel. That’s not what happened here, for the most part. Instead, what did happen is that our newbies told the lobbyists that they weren’t interested in being puppets to lobbyists – that they would vote with their gut or by listening to their constituents. It turned out that the lobbyists had much greater influence with legislators that had been around for decades, and with whom they had been long able to nurse friendships. The new guys wanted none of it.

    I don’t know if this has been seen in other states. I don’t know if it would work the same way in Washington. I don’t know how much influence the staffers actually have on legislative votes. But as for Missouri, lobbyists have lost a degree of influence because of term limits.

  3. We the people should be the decider regarding the term limits of any office holder. If someone is doing a good job, why have a law that requires them to leave office after a prescribed time? If an office holder is out of touch and no longer responsive and representative of his/her constituents, the constituents have the ability to vote in someone else.

  4. David says:

    Thank you for the responses so far. I will post most of my expanding thoughts on a separate post, but I did want to comment on what Obi wan said.

    It’s true that people have the power to vote their representatives out of office, but its also true that incumbents have an automatic advantage in any election and term limits can help to reduce that advantage by undercutting arguments about the advantage of seniority.

    I recognize that strict term limits are not without their drawbacks, but they are worth consideration.

  5. I recognize that incumbency creates a barrier to entry to potential candidates. However, an incumbent also has a record which makes them vulnerable as well. On divisive issues, an office holder has the potential of ticking off a large number of voters. My experience has also been that people remember the votes that go against them much better than the votes that vote with them.

    To me, the problem with Utah politics isn’t a lack of term limits, it’s a lack of political balance and a lack of accountability facing office holders. I also pin a certain amount of blame on what I consider to be a weak and compliant press corp. The basic problems that term limits are meant to correct are better corrected through political means, rather than regulated means via statute changes.

  6. David says:

    That is a good point. Our lack of political balance is a huge problem in this state. That imbalance would almost certainly continue to result in questionable legislation even with term limits.

    I don’t think that term limits should be implemented by statute – if term limits are to be implemented they should be enacted in the state constitution.

  7. Constitutional amendments require far too many votes in the legislature to ever really make it through the resolution process. Too many State Senators will oppose term limits on House members because when their term is over in the House, they’ll just challenge their Senator, and vice versa.

    I think getting a majority in both houses would be difficult, but to get 2/3 which is what would be required (if I remember right) to put the amendment on the ballot would be darned near impossible.

  8. Who is this Obi Wan Liberali fellow that raises such good points? The force is strong with this one.

    Like blogging, incumbency should show whether an official is good/bad, wise/dumb, keepable/tossable, etc. The problem is that people don’t get or don’t take a clear look at what the incumbents are actually doing. I think it’s a rather crude tool to give all officials an expiration date and toss them after it passes. But — as is often the case — it’s also a crummy situation when they (we?) get a free pass just because their (our?) names are somewhat known, signs already are stored in the garage, a war chest is built up, etc.

    I remain optimistic that the Internet will blow open the doors to government; people will get a close look at their representatives; and people will make informed decisions on whether to discard or recycle. Sunlight remains the best disinfectant.

  9. David says:

    Obi wan is right about the 2/3 in each house requirement for amendments. Maybe we should fix that too – there should be a way to allow for the people to peacefully revolt through the referendum process. For example, put a proposed amendment on the ballot as a referendum and if it receives 75% (or 80% – some super-majority) approval from the voters then it must be considered by each house of the legislature – if it passes each house with a bare majority (remembering that the super-majority of voters has already approved it) then it is added to the constitution.

    By the way Steve, if you have not been introduced to Obi wan before, he is among of my favorite responders because he always thinks before hitting “Submit Comment.” And you are right – sunlight is the best disinfectant – especially once it has penetrated all the little cracks and crevices.

  10. Wow David, that is generous praise. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pushed “submit comment” and then did a Homeresque “DOH!”

    I’m kind of hanging my hat on Steve’s comment that the internet will “blow open the doors” and that what was once done in private will now be public. We as citizens are no longer subject to the competence of the journalistic profession and can do our own research. We now have the tools to do our civic duty if we are astute enough to use those tools.

    Best regards David. I appreciate your insightful posts.

  11. Jason Black says:

    Here I go submitting without first opening my brain. I agree with Steve and Obi Wan, to a degree.

    I agree that transparency is key, and that the internet is helping that greatly. However, the general apathy of Americans has not been; indeed cannot be; solved with technology. Unless the general voting public wakes up, incumbency will continue to be the shield that politicians will be able to wield against any attack from the thinking public. No matter how transparent a candidate or office holder is to you and me, they’re still safe because those who care enough to be watching are in the minority.

    Second, I agree that we the people are the ultimate judges of whether a politician should keep his job. It certainly would be frustrating to lose a true statesman of a congressman to term limits, when the public wants him to stay. It was mentioned earlier that we don’t have term limits for our jobs – why should they? Well, the fact is that we do have term limits in many public offices – President, governors, school board members, PTA president. In general, there is a limit to how long an elected officer retains their office. We do that, in part I think, because the office is greater than the individual who holds it. If a public official holds a position of power for too long, they become (in their own minds, generally, and often in the minds of their constituents) the permanent embodiment of that office. If the integrity and elevated stature of an office are to be maintained, a fresh face is necessary. Even if the office holder is a true statesman – a Washington or a Lincoln a Churchill – we still need them to step down so that the power of the office is separated from the individual. Term limits protect the office from being cheapened by longevity.

    The argument that we lose some of our popular sovereignty by enacting term limits is the best argument I know of against them, and one that very nearly sways me. But if we’re going to stand by that argument against legislative term limits, then it becomes very difficult to defend executive term limits – what if America wants Bill Clinton back? Why can’t the majority keep him in power indefinitely? History teaches us that this is a bad idea – look at Stalin, Hussein, Castro and now Chavez in Columbia. They aggrandize themselves at the terrible expense of their people, and merge themselves inseparably into their office. If it’s not good for executives, then why for legislators?

    In general, I favor limited government. But more still I favor limiting the power of any individual or small group of individuals. I want that power to be shared by as many Americans as is practical.

  12. Jason Black says:

    I’ve got to amend the above briefly. I mentioned that the argument that the will of the people ought to be the ultimate decider of an individual’s term of office is a sound one, though it is rarely carried out because of the electoral advantages of incumbency. Now I argue that it is possible, and has already happened in some states, that the will of the majority (and in some states, like mine, a super majority) of the people want their legislators generally to be held to a limited term of office. In Missouri, over 75% of our voters passed legislative term limits. In many other states the same has been done. I think, perhaps, our nation’s voters would like to see the same for congress.

    One problem – in most, if not all, states, there is a process for the voters to directly make law by referendum. That’s how legislative term limits have always come about, because the legislators have been unwilling to limit their own terms. We do not have such a direct means of enacting federal law, so congressional term limits can only be made to happen if congressmen become willing to limit their own terms in favor of public sentiment (assuming that it is indeed the will of the people), which has not yet been done by any state legislature. I guess, then, that even if term limits are good, and if the majority of people wanted to see them enacted, the only way to accomplish it is for the people to vote their representatives out of office every so many years, because they’ll never vote themselves out of power.

  13. Reach Upward says:

    I do not believe that the bar should be lowered for constitutional amendments. It is extremely difficult to pass a constitutional amendment because we hold the document in such high regard. We hold the State Constitution to be the supreme law of the state, second only to the US Constitution, which is the supreme law of the nation.

    These documents should contain only essential principles and should be tampered with only at great need. Making the amendment process easier would cheapen the value of the documents almost as much does the ignoring of the documents’ provisions.

    I find myself on both sides of the term limits issue. I very much appreciate Jason’s suggestion that it may be good to toss even great statesmen because the office is more important than any person that may hold it. I also appreciate Obi Wan’s and Steve U’s articulations about the drawbacks of term limits. In effect, we would trade one set of problems for another. But it is also possible that the trade-off could be productive.

  14. David says:

    I don’t think that my proposal would lower the bar for a constitutional amendment – it would just create a second path. It would require a super-majority of voters (which is probably harder to achieve than a super-majority of legislators) and a majority of legislators. I too hold the state constitution in high regard, but it seems to me that if the ultimate authority rests with the people then the people should have a way to express their views even when those views naturally conflict with the inherent interests of the legislature (perhaps “especially when . . .”).

  15. I just discovered this great website talking intelligently about term limits, and as you can see from my website tenurecorrupts.com , the subject is dear to my heart.

    However, while all agree to the fact that it is extremely difficult to get the bill for such a constitutional amendment passed in Congress, none of you has addressed the alternative method provided in Article V of the Constitution “for a convention for proposing amendments”, which Hamilton, in Federalist 85, has declared that when 2/3 of states have applied, will be peremptorily called by Congress.
    All 50 states have applied. Congress has ignored this Constitutional duty.

    Time to impeach Congress ? (see foavc.org)

  16. David says:


    You are obviously very committed to this. I like your reference to Article V – could you share the proof that all 50 states have applied for such a convention because we would need proof to take any significant action.

  17. David says:


    I amend my request for information on the states applying for an Article V convention. I see that you have such a list already published.

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