New effort to extend term limits has legs

Gongwer Michigan’s Zach Gorchow explains this new attempt to change Michigan’s term limits for lawmakers and why this effort could be different.

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Michigan has some of the strictest term limits in the nation. But now there’s a new effort to change Michigan’s term limits for state lawmakers.

As part of the weekly series MichMash, WDET’s Jake Neher and Slate’s Cheyna Roth talk with Gongwer Michigan senior editor and publisher Zach Gorchow, who wrote a blog post in Gongwer titled, “At Last, A Serious Attempt To Change Term Limits.”


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Figuring out how long lawmakers should be allowed to stay in office has been a longstanding debate. House members get three two-year terms and Senate members get two four-year terms. But then once you’ve exhausted both those chambers, you’re out for good.

These term limits started in the 1990s. In the years following, many people have said that’s not enough time for our government to be effective — especially in the state House.

But the new proposal would give lawmakers a 12-year total limit on combined service. They could split that time between the House and Senate any way they want, if at all.

“The idea here is multifaceted,” Gorchow says. “But it’s mainly to allow members of the Legislature, specifically the House really, to build some more experience.”

State House suffers most from current limits

Gorchow says that since term limits were enacted, the House is the chamber that has really suffered, given their short terms.

“You’ll hear House members say often, finally, when they get to their third term, they’re just starting to get good at the job and figure things out. Because, look, the number of state laws that are out there is voluminous. They’re complex.”

Not only are the laws complex, but as things currently stand, the time restrictions have meant that inexperienced lawmakers are put in charge of leading those with even less experience.

“Right now, we have many instances where first-term members are chairing committees,” Gorchow says. “We’ve had Speakers with only two or four years of experience. And it’s just created this tumult churn. And a number of problems really, since term limits, took effect all those years ago.”

The new proposal is an amendment to the state Constitution. The group behind the petition is finalizing their language to submit to the Board of State Canvassers. Once approved, they’ll begin collecting signatures for the measure to go on the November ballot. They’ll need about 425,000 signatures from registered voters no later than mid-July to be on the ballot.

Effort faces time crunch

While it’s a tight timeline, Gorchow thinks they might be able to get it done.

“It’s not a lot of time, usually, you’d have six months to gather signatures, but they’re only going to get four months,” he says.

“This appears to be a group with the resources to pay signature gatherers. They haven’t said they’re going to do that yet, but I would assume they will.”


More from MichMash:

Bills would crack down on lying petition circulators

Michigan races heat up between incumbents of same party

Political storylines to watch this year in Michigan

Three initiatives could start gathering signatures soon

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Authors

  • Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.

  • Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.