A quarter of a century ago, Michigan voters enacted term limits. Despite evidence that the experiment has been a failure, Michiganders both in and out of government continue to resist any attempt at reform. Voters like the system exactly the way it is.
States that enacted term limits similar to Michigan — everyone was doing it in the 1990s — have since changed laws to correct the worst of what term limits are doing to Michigan. Don't expect it to happen here. The people running Michigan because we mandated an amateur legislature like it just the way it is.
The Citizens Research Council calls Michigan term limits a dismal failure in a new report. The timing of the report probably is not a coincidence; this is one of the years when term limits will replace just about every elected official in Lansing with someone less qualified to do the job.
Term limits have not lived up to their Reagan-era promises. They were supposed to improve diversity in elected offices, disrupt the influence of lobbyists, prevent lawmakers from forgetting their constituents, end partisan gridlock, and get rid of self-interested career politicians. The CRC says it hasn't done any of those things.
Instead of diversity, the Legislature has fewer women and minorities than before term limits went into effect.
Instead of reducing the influence of lobbyists and special interests, lobbyists and special interests are now effectively running the Legislature because short-term lawmakers don't have the knowledge, experience or skill to do their jobs themselves.
Instead of holding officials more accountable to constituents, lawmakers have become more remote. Their futures and their performance are no longer tied to how well they serve local officials or voters back home. They're more out of touch than ever.
Instead of ending gridlock, term limits institutionalized it. If term-limited lawmakers have a constituency, it is the party bureaucracy that will find them their next jobs. Pandering to the base is rewarded with a future in politics; leading and governing are not.
And instead of getting rid of career politicians, it has created a new breed of them. Instead of looking forward to a long career amassing power in the influence in the House, they are marking the calendar for the day they can move to a seat in the Senate.
There are ways to make it work better without eliminating term limits. Limited politicians to total time in office instead of limits for each job to end churn. Enact real lobbying reforms. Vote yes for the anti-gerrymander issue on the November ballot. Vote for better candidates.
— TIMES HERALD/PORT HURON (AP)