Poll: Utahns Want Term Limits for Elected Offices

Utahns overwhelmingly like the idea of term limits for top federal and state offices, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.

The only question is how long incumbents in those offices should serve, found pollster Dan Jones & Associates.

In general, Utahns favor two terms for a governor, U.S. senator and state senator, and 12 years (or three terms) for U.S. House and state House.

But the real feeling is that somehow, some way, top officeholders should be term limited, the survey shows.

Jones finds:

  • 11 percent of Utahns say there should be no term limits for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House.
  • 9 percent say there should be no term limits for the Utah governor and the Utah Senate.
  • 8 percent say there should be no term limits for the Utah House.

All the rest say there should be some kind of term limits – the difference being where those limits should be set.

Utah has no term limits for governor or other state offices. When a bill on term limits has been introduced in the Utah Legislature, all have failed.

That is in recent years.

In 1994, then independent Merrill Cook ran a statewide term limit citizen initiative petition.

That same year, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was up for re-election, seeking a fourth, six-year term – or 24 years in office.

Leading Utah Republicans saw a problem: Polls showed that by far most Utahns favored Cook’s term limit initiative.

And so voters at the ballot box would face a schizophrenic decision: Vote for term limits and vote in Hatch for a longer-than-Cook-initiative time in office.

Republicans in the Legislature acted: Passing a term limit bill that set state officials at 12 years (three terms for governor and state senator, six terms for state House members.)

However, they grandfathered in all current lawmakers – so state term limits in Utah wouldn’t take effect for 12 more years.

Cook’s petition made the ballot. But it had other problems and voters – with the new law in effect – voted it down.

Hatch won a fourth term.

As the 12-year term limit for legislators approached in 2006, lawmakers went back on their promise and repealed the state term limit law.

No Utah governor or legislator had to leave office because of term limits.

And various attempts to term limit governors/legislators via state legislation have failed since.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled years ago that states can’t term limit U.S. senators and House members – only Congress can do that.

And, of course, Congress has refused to term limit themselves.

After President Franklin Roosevelt won four terms as president in the 1930s and 1940s, Congress passed a constitutional amendment to limit presidents to two terms for life, and the states ratified it.

While Utah lawmakers are set against term limits for themselves – they say we have term limits, they are called elections – the new Jones poll shows by far most Utahns want state term limits.

Jones finds:

  • 58 percent of Utahns want a two-term limit for governors – or eight years in office. Seventeen percent say limit governors to three terms – or 12 years in office.

Utah has had only two governors win a third term, Democrat Calvin Rampton in 1972 and Republican Mike Leavitt in 2000.

  • 49 percent say limit state senators to two terms – or eight years – while 18 percent say limit state senators to three terms – or 12 years.
  • 38 percent say limit state House members to two terms – or four years – while 36 percent say limit them to three terms – or six years.

While Utah voters can’t term limit their U.S. senators and House members (so says the U.S. Supreme Court), if given that chance:

  • 48 percent say limit U.S. senators to two terms – or 12 years – while 15 percent say limit them to three terms – or 18 years.
  • 36 percent say term limit U.S. House members to two terms – or four years – while 37 percent say limit them to three terms – or six years.

In 2012 and 2014 the 75-member Utah House saw considerable turnover of members.

But it came through retirements or House members being elected to the state Senate.

In typical election years, between 80 percent and 90 percent of Utah legislators win re-election, if they seek it.

In short, most often Utah’s part-time lawmakers either retire from office or die in office – they are not replaced by voters.

Utah’s GOP Gov. Gary Herbert is in an interesting position as he seeks re-election in 2016.

He was former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.’s lieutenant governor when Huntsman resigned in early 2009 to become ambassador to China, just after taking office for his second term.

Herbert had to run in 2010 to serve out the rest of Huntsman’s second term.

Herbert then won re-election in 2012 to his own four-year term.

Now Herbert will run for a third time in 2016, even though if he wins he will have served 11 years in office, not 12.

And 58 percent of Utahns say our governors should be term-limited to eight years in office.

If he is victorious next year, Herbert would have won three gubernatorial elections – and he will be right up there with two other of Utah’s most popular governors – Rampton and Leavitt.

Jones polled 803 registered voters May 4-12. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percent.