It’s time to ditch state’s term limits

It's time to ditch state's term limits
Well, Labor Day is behind us.

And this is an election year, meaning there will be more than just a nip in the air soon.

Labor Day weekend traditionally marks the formal beginning of full-time political campaigns leading up to the November election.


South Dakotans will be uniquely challenged this year. Statewide, we have our fair share of people running for important offices, such as governor and U.S representative.

We also have an arm's length of initiatives and referendums to consider, dealing with an alphabet soup of topics, such as video lottery, abortion to even marriage.

The city of Vermillion will have two competing initiatives on the November ballot asking whether Crawford Road should be completed.

There's one issue that won't be part of Election 2006. We wish it was on the ballot.

Years ago, South Dakotans approved term limits for members of the South Dakota Legislature with the mistaken belief that it would somehow make things better in Pierre.

It hasn't.

Other states are beginning to discover that, too.

Hardest hit will be Nebraska, where term limits will take effect for the first time. Twenty of the 49 members of its nonpartisan, unicameral Legislature must leave, including the speaker and the heads of a dozen committees. The Montana Legislature will lose the greatest number of top leaders; the Senate president and the majority and minority leaders in both chambers are among 21 term-limited lawmakers.

Some politicians and academics contend term limits are stripping certain statehouses of their institutional memories, giving greater influence to the executive branch and lobbyists, and intensifying partisanship.

� Between 1990 and 2000, 21 states adopted limits on how long politicians could serve in the statehouse, all but one by ballot initiative. However, term limits have been repealed by legislatures or state courts in Idaho, Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Legislative term limits are now in effect in 13 states: Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Term limits become effective in Louisiana next year and in Nevada in 2010.

No state has enacted term limits since 2000. But their impact will be felt this election year in several capitals including Sacramento, where nearly a third of the California Assembly and 30 percent of the Senate are leaving this year. In Arkansas, 29 percent of House members cannot run for re-election, and nearly 21 percent of the Michigan House will be forced to leave office. �

In Montana, where the Legislature meets for just 90 days every other year, term limits have given more power to the governor and to executive agencies, said Senate Minority Leader Bob Keenan (R), who is term-limited after 16 years at the Statehouse.

In states with term limits, lobbyists also play a greater role in informing – and sometimes deceiving – legislators, said Keenan, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate. Because lawmakers have less time to become experts in policy areas, they rely more heavily on lobbyists, he said.

Another effect is that brash, less-experienced legislators no longer feel tempered by senior colleagues – and the result is a decline in legislative civility, he said. "We've seen an increase in hard-core partisanship and ideology."

Nine states with term limits allow state lawmakers to run again for the same seat after sitting out for two to four years: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota.

So, what's been happening in South Dakota is members of the state House serve until they're term-limited. And, if they still have the desire the serve, they must campaign to win a seat in the state Senate.

It's a silly sort of ping-pong match, with our local politicians bouncing from one legislative body to the other.

The ultimate effect is many legislators have continued to serve for years, even decades, despite term limits in South Dakota.

That's not to say there isn't a high turnover rate among lawmakers in Pierre. There is. Which makes term limits an unnecessary, silly idea.

It's too late to do anything before the upcoming November election. But South Dakota needs to concentrate some energy two years from now on eliminating term limits.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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