Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias There's been lots of talk lately about term limits in the South Dakota Legislature. And surprisingly, much of that talk comes from the lawmakers themselves.

Our very own legislators from District 19 said at a recent Cracker Barrel meeting in Vermillion that the legislative body will suffer after this year because state voters made term limits a mandate.

We won't argue that serving in the South Dakota House or Senate is a difficult, tedious, time-consuming job. We commend those citizens who take it upon themselves to become active in local politics, and put themselves through the rigors of a campaign every election year so that they can represent us in Pierre.

But sympathize with them? That's another matter.

People who run for any public office should know even before they announce their candidacy what they are getting into. Everyone who served in the hallowed chambers of Pierre this legislative session knew that the state Legislature is soon due to feel the impact of term limits.

Yes, term limits probably mean that many of the "old hands" � individuals who have served so long in either the House or the Senate that they have a refined knowledge of how state government works � won't be returning to Pierre.

Before South Dakotans panic and reconsider their decision to approve the term limits, however, they should consider one very important fact.

A number of lawmakers who have reached their term limit this year will be attempting to return to the Legislature.

Term limits, in many instances, really don't mean a thing. Why? Because House members who met their limits at the end of this session can run, if they choose, for the Senate, and vice versa.

"There aren't really going to be that many changes, even with term limits," said Sen. Bob Benson, R-Clearfield, in a recent news report. "I'm a strong believer in term limits, but 13 members are moving from the House to the Senate and seven senators are trying to move to the House.

"There will be no major change whatsoever," Benson said of the statewide impact of term limits.

Some members of the state House who are term limited will run for a seat in the Senate or seek their party's nomination for some other office. A few members of the Senate will run for election to the House or some other office.

Term limits are a result of a 1992 constitutional amendment approved by voters that restricts legislators to four consecutive two-year terms. Because of that, legislators who were elected or re-elected in 1992 and have served continuously since that time must step aside for a term or run for election to another office.

April 4 is the deadline for major party candidates to file petitions, and June 20 is the deadline for Independent candidates.

Some of the arguments against term limits, we must admit, have a degree of validity. The South Dakota Legislature is purely a body made up of common folk, not full-time professional politicians.

The turnover rate is high. Many legislators find that they can only devote a few years in the Senate or the House before leaving to devote more time to their personal and professional lives.

As one of our local legislators said recently, South Dakota citizens have always had a way to limit lawmakers' terms � the ballot box.

We predict, however, that South Dakota government will run just fine, not despite term limits, but because of them.

Yes, our legislators aren't professional politicians. For the most part, they do a good job. Their constituents are satisfied.

What that means too often in recent years is that the decision to leave office hasn't been made by voters, but by the lawmakers themselves.

That's not right. Incumbents, we reason, do have an advantage over challengers at election time.

Even with term limits in place, we predict there will be plenty of experienced lawmakers roaming the halls of the Capitol in Pierre for years to come.

But thanks to those limits, there will be an infusion of fresh blood and new ideas in the House and Senate.

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