It’s been 30 years since Michigan voters approved term limits for the governor, the Legislature and other statewide offices. In 2022, they’ll have a chance to amend the law and require politicians to make some financial information public.
How would Proposal 1 change the status quo?
“This will allow legislators, and especially the leadership team, to stay in one of the chambers and learn as much as they can through the process.” — Mark Gaffney, co-chair of Voters for Transparency and Term Limits
Currently, lawmakers can only serve up to six years in the state House and up to eight years in the state Senate, for a total of 14 years. Proposal 1 would reduce that to 12 years, but a lawmaker could serve all of that time in one chamber or the other. They could also split their service between the two (for example, 10 years in the House and two in the Senate).
Mark Gaffney co-chairs the committee supporting Proposal 1. He says it would give lawmakers more time to learn how state government works and become better informed about the issues they’ll be voting on.
“You can’t learn about all the aspects of the state and what you’re voting on in two years, or in four years, and in theory even in six years,” Gaffney says. “And so this will allow legislators, and especially the leadership team, to stay in one of the chambers and learn as much as they can through the process.”
Experience is an issue
Gaffney says Proposal 1 would stem the turnover that takes place in Lansing with a new group of inexperienced lawmakers coming in every two years.
But Proposal 1’s opponents say that turnover is a good thing.
“We want to increase the participation of citizens.” — Patrick Anderson, author of Michigan’s 1992 term limit amendment.
Patrick L. Anderson is an economist and a longtime political consultant in Michigan. He drafted the original term limit amendment voters passed in 1992.
“Those of us who support term limits are getting more people to run for office,” Anderson says. “That’s part of our goal. We want to increase the participation of citizens.”
He adds that it’s arrogant to think that only political experience matters.
“We want to give those farmers, those homemakers, those members of school boards, those people that are working in small businesses, we want to give them a chance to run for an open seat and get in the Legislature,” Anderson says.
Hundreds have served in term limits era
More than 700 people from diverse backgrounds have served in the Michigan Legislature since term limits were enacted 30 years ago. Jeremy Moss is one of those citizens. He was elected to the state House in 2014, served two terms, and won a state Senate race in 2018. He is Michigan’s first openly gay state senator.
The Oakland County Democrat is seeking a second term in the Senate this year. It would be his final term if he wins, even if Proposal 1 passes. Thus, Moss says it doesn’t benefit sitting lawmakers, but it would help new ones.
“We’ve had people with inexperience and unaccountability making serious consequential decisions that impact all of us,” Moss says. “And by the time they’re in the most senior levels of leadership, not only do they not have the experience, but they’re on their way out the door.”
Relationships are another part of the debate
Moss says he’s hit his stride as a lawmaker after eight years, having built good relationships with his colleagues and constituents. Proposal 1 backer Mark Gaffney — the former president of the Michigan AFL-CIO — says from a lobbying standpoint, those relationships lead to good policymaking.
“Everybody who’s getting money from the state government has to go back and make their case again to these new people and convince them it’s a good thing you’re still paying for this.” — Scott Tillman, Treasurer of No More Time for Career Politicians
“If you spend most of your time explaining the same things over and over to a brand-new set of people, that’s not very helpful,” Gaffney says. “We ought to be building on the knowledge folks bring in. We ought to be adding to the knowledge that folks learn. And that we way we can come up with better policy.”
But Proposal 1 opponent Scott Tillman disagrees. He represents a group called No More Time for Career Politicians. Tillman says Michigan’s existing term limits are meant to prevent those relationships with lobbyists from becoming too cozy.
“When you have short term limits, then you have a situation where every two years, a third of the house is new.” Tillman says. “Everybody who’s getting money from the state government has to go back and make their case again to these new people and convince them it’s a good thing that you’re still paying for this. Here’s the result of what we’re doing with the money that you’re giving us.”
Proposal includes new financial reporting rules
Tillman says Michigan’s existing term limits promote accountability and transparency — something Proposal 1 also addresses.
Michigan and Idaho are the only states where politicians don’t have to reveal information about their finances or income. Proposal 1 would require lawmakers and other state officials to file annual reports describing their assets, liabilities and sources of earned income.
Both sides say they want more transparency in Lansing. However, they do not agree that Proposal 1 is the way to get there.