First I would like to thank Steve Urquhart for his comments. And in case anyone got the wrong impression, I had no intention to spar with Steve over this issue or single him out. I respect Rep. Urquhart for his openness on this and many other issues. He has convincingly demonstrated his honest belief that “sunlight [is] the best disinfectant.” The major reason that I singled him out is that I know that he is one member of the legislature that understands the value of blogging discussions.
All that being said, this post is mainly some of my further findings after his comments to my previous post. He said that term limits came in a wave in 1994, but it would be more accurate to say that 1994 was the tail end of the wave. 15 states enacted term limits before 1994, 3 more (including Utah) did so in 1994, and 3 have enacted term limits since 1994. Of the 6 states that have repealed their term limit laws (that’s 28% of states that had such laws), it appears that none of those laws ever lasted long enough to limit the term of any legislator. No state where term limits actually started limiting terms has gone back. My assessment would be that Utah retreated from that legislation prematurely.
The second part of Steve’s response was quite enlightening:
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).
Since he had not verified the 4 year average I went to the website for the Utah Legislature (a very good site, by the way) and did some quick checking on the 75 members of the house and all 29 senators. In the Senate the mean term length is 7 years with an average of 6.93 so by the time we next have elections the average term will be sitting at 8 years (the longest current term being 18). 14 of the 29 have served between 3 and 7 years, most of the other 15 have served more than 7 years.
In the House, where Steve serves, the mean length of current consecutive service is 5 years with an average of about 5.2 so the average will be 6 years before we next vote. The are a number of representatives who have served 3 years or less consecutively who have previously served in the House, sometimes for more than a decade. If we factor in lifetime service for these representatives the average goes up to nearly 5.5 years. About 70% of the members of the house have served no longer than Steve, although there are many who have served 7 years like he has.
It is comforting to see that we have a pretty good rate of turnover in our state and I hope that it stays that way. So long as we have consistent turnover I think we need to focus more on correcting the imbalance of power between the major parties – as Obi wan had suggested – at least here in Utah.