Genius Panel: Are Term Limits Good or Bad?

blue 01This week’s question: A recent poll shows very high majorities of Utah voters support term limits for most state and federal offices. Do you support or oppose term limits? Would term limits improve or worsen governance?

Steve Handy, state representative and former Layton City Council member. I think if I didn’t know better I would have also been one of the respondents leaning towards term limits for BOTH federal and state offices.

But after a few terms in the Utah House of Representatives I guess I have a split personality.

For many years I’ve favored term limits for federal offices. Recently, a simulated Convention of States assembly was held. A term limit amendment was advanced proposing no more than six full two-year terms for members of the House of Representatives and no more than two full six-year terms for members of the Senate. I think that’s about right.

But when it comes to the Utah Legislature I need to push back.

First of all, Utah is still thankfully a true citizen legislature. Members balance their employment and other activities with their legislative service. They get in, give some service, and get out. The average length of time for a member of Utah’s House is about 7 and a half years. The Utah Senate is probably a little longer, but not by much.

There are those outliers who serve for 20 or 30 plus years but they are few and far between.

Because of our short, 45-day session, it’s important for citizens, legislators and the process in general to have some continuity that carries over from year to year. Also, if we truly imposed terms limits on legislators I fear that would only empower lobbyists. Some of them have been around for 20 to 30 years and they know the system better than many legislators.

Terms limits for U.S. Senators and Representatives? Yes! Term limits for Utah Legislators? No, voters should ultimately have the say-so on who comes and who goes and we already self-limit anyway.

Boyd C. Matheson, president, Sutherland Institute, and former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee. Any conversation about term limits must also include a discussion about term limits for the staff of elected officials. Term-limiting elected officers without also limiting staff and bureaucrats would further put power in the hands of the unelected and unaccountable.

The founders of this nation recognized and believed that government service was to be just that – service. They also envisioned that those elected would serve for a season and then return to private life and the private sector. A steady stream of new leaders and new staff would create a perpetual push against the status quo and stave off the accelerating centralization of power. It would also invite innovation and real reform.

Sadly, there seems to be little appetite to take up term limits. There are only a handful of elected officials who appear willing to limit their own power, and lobbyists, special interests, and bureaucrats seem determined to perpetuate their control over power, money and influence. Those invested in the power structure of the past have little incentive to be part of innovating a new approach for the future. Nonetheless, it is still a conversation worth having. The goal should always be to keep power closer to the people, where there can be more transparency and accountability.   

Peter Corroon , former Salt Lake County mayor and current chair of the state Democratic Party. I support term limits.  Term limits reduce corruption in government by preventing incumbents from becoming entrenched politicians through political donations from those who want something from them.  I would support one or two terms of 3-5 years for representatives and 6-8 years for Senators and Executive Officials.  Term limits also allow for fresh ideas from new elected officials.

I think term limits would allow more opportunities for elected officials from different political parties to work together rather than worrying about their next election.

Todd Weiler, attorney, state senator, and former vice chair the state Republican Party. I used to support term limits.  I jumped on that bandwagon, with both feet, in the early 1990s.  But I was wrong.  Here’s why:  government bureaucrats and lobbyists are not subject to term limits.  They are also not elected, and therefore not directly accountable to the taxpayers or voters.  Elected officials stand for re-election every 2-6 years.  If they are performing poorly, they can and should be booted.

By imposing term limits on the only players who are accountable to the voters, you inherently give more power to the ones who aren’t.  It takes most freshmen legislators a few years to get enough experience to be effective.  If you take all of the seasoned lawmakers out of the process, the bureaucrats and lobbyists will fill in the gaps.  They already have too much power.  Giving them even more is not good policy. 

Mark H. Bouchard, senior managing director, Southwest Region, CBRE Inc. I’ve always found it a bit perplexing that we limit presidents to terms, when the power to enact generally lies with the legislative or congressional arms of government.

At the state level, one of the central roles of the Legislature is to balance the budget. Using this belief as a basis for opinion, I believe that terms limits would be a good thing. Of course staggering legislative seats to address the maintaining of an experience factor, and complementing this important role with the experience and talents of the Office of Budget and Management and it’s leadership.

One of the great challenges to public service is becoming too entrenched in ideals or philosophies. The consistent rotation of leaders, very much like operating businesses, can serve a great purpose in fostering new ideas and thinking.

In the final analysis, it has served us well with presidents, I’m confident it would do likewise for legislatures and Congress.