Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why Michigan should keep term limits for legislators

Guest Columnist
Nick Tomboulides
The Michigan Constitution is a long document, so when a state legislator happens to forget a provision or two, that's understandable. But in the case of Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, he seems to have forgotten the first line – the one that says "all political power is inherent in the people."

Since last December, the Monroe Republican has been on a crusade to weaken the term limits that voters enacted with an 18-point margin of victory in 1992. Polls showthat term limits still have support in Michigan, and no citizen group is calling for term limits to be weakened or repealed. This idea exists purely inside the minds of politicians and their allies.

By refusing to accept the people's will on term limits, Richardville is not only disregarding the state Constitution, but also attempting to reverse democracy. Whereas ideas are supposed to originate with citizens and be implemented by politicians, his plan does the opposite. It takes an idea only legislators love and forces skeptical voters to deal with it. There's no good reason why citizens should have to spend time, energy and money to defeat a ballot question they haven't asked for.

If Richardville manages to get his anti-term limits measure on
Current Senate Majority Leader
Randy Richardville (R) Monroe
the ballot, it's likely to receive financial backing from the same special interests that fund his campaigns. That won't be chump change.
As the felon mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff admitted, lobbyists hate term limits because they're forced to work harder under such a system. "When you finally 'purchase' an office, you don't want to have to repurchase it in six years," he said.

Under Richardville's plan, one purchase could give any lobbyist a lifetime subscription of a dishonest politician.

The anti-term limits plan gets even more bizarre when one considers what's happening in Grand Rapids right now. Good government activists there have collected 10,250signatures to place solid eight-year term limits – the same length Richardville complains about – on their municipal ballot.

Isn't it strange that term limits are always initiated by citizens, but their repeals originate with legislators? The passion and enthusiasm for term limits shown by the people of Grand Rapids reveals a big disconnect on the issue between citizens and career politicians like Richardville. At moments like these, it's important to remember which one is the other's boss. Politicians answer to the people, not vice versa.

It's no wonder Richardville yearns to go back to the days before term limits, when unseating an incumbent in Michigan was like prying a sword from a stone. From 1967 to 1990, only 16 state Senate incumbents were defeated – a 96% re-election rate. By contrast, 25 senators were term-limited in 2010 alone. These vacancies create real opportunities for citizens to run for office – ones that didn't exist before, and will cease to exist if Richardville's idea gets traction. New legislators bring with them fresh perspectives that reflect the other side of government: what it's like to actually live under the laws, rather than just write them. Lansing should not become a smaller version of Washington, where seniority means power and new voices are often ignored.

The senator claims that legislators don't oppose term limits out of self-interest. "Anybody that takes this job, that gives up a pension, gives up usually better pay," he said. But Richardville's annual salary of $95,085 is 213% of what the average Michigander earns in a year, and the percentage he contributes to his own health care is lower than the private sector average. Compared to other states, Michigan's legislative compensation is the fourth-highest in the nation.

Voters don't believe for a minute that, by staying in office, politicians are making a sacrifice. They know all too well the perks and privileges of elected office, and are sure to see these comments as out-of-touch.

Now is the time to stand up for term limits and against Richardville's proposal. An influential senator in a lame-duck session should not be permitted to overrule the people's will.

Nick Tomboulides is executive director of U.S. Term Limits, an organization advocating for their implementation.

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