Term Limits Hit Lawmakers In 11 States

 

Legislatures in 11 states face fallout from term limits in this year's elections with 330 lawmakers being forced to step down after 12 or fewer years in office.

The Michigan state Senate, which will lose 27 of its 38 members, will be hardest hit. But the Missouri Legislature will suffer heavily as well -- it bids farewell to 75 of its 163 House members and 12 of its 34 Senators. The California House will lose a quarter (20 out of 80) of its experienced members.

Some political observers decry the loss of experienced politicians familiar with the legislative process. In Michigan, for example, "both of the Senate leaders will be gone," says Greg Bird, an aide to Michigan Senate Democratic Leader John D. Cherry Jr.

"It's definitely taking a toll on experience around here," Bird adds.

Supporters of term limits don't see that as a problem. In fact, they contend that many of those who leave office often end up running for a seat in a different chamber of the state legislature or for Congress. Many others run for local or other state offices.

"The important thing is the seats are open and it creates a competition that attracts people from all experiences...We've seen more women and minorities elected as a result of term limits and more people from diverse backgrounds," says Stacie Rumenap, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Term Limits advocacy group.

"The fact that (term limit officeholders) get out of that seat and leave it open is a great way of energizing our political process," Rumenap says.

Nineteen states have adopted term limits in one form or another that affect their state legislatures, congressional seats, and even local and county offices, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

They are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

However, the Idaho law doesn't take effect until 2004; the Utah and Wyoming measures won't kick in until 2006; Louisiana's law becomes effective in 2007, and Nevada and Nebraska lawmakers won't be affected until 2008.

Oregon's law was ruled unconstitutional on January 11 of this year by the Oregon Supreme Court.

The Oregon decision could affect the outcome of term limits challenges in Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming, says Jennifer Bowser, who tracks term limit and election issues for the NCSL.

In addition to term limits, redistricting based on 2000 census data is expected to force a number of lawmakers out of office while creating a few new seats because of population increases. As things stand now, 28 states have completed their political remap of legislative districts while 22 state plans remain deadlocked in court or legislative battles.

In Missouri, where redistricting efforts have been completed, several lawmakers are opting to join colleagues being forced out by term limits even though their own seats are still considered safe. State Rep. Derio Gambaro is resigning his seat in the Missouri House to run for alderman in St. Louis' redrawn 10th Ward, which now encompasses his home in the city's Italian section known as The Hill.

Gambaro doesn't see the job of alderman as a step down from his state post. Rather he views it as an opportunity that will give him more "hands-on" input in local decisions that have more impact on peoples' day-to-day lives.

"I just wanted to be closer to home and spend more time with my family," he says, adding that redistricting will make that possible if he wins the election in March 2003.

In the meantime, he says, "I'm going to have to deal like everybody else (in the legislature) with the budget problems we're facing this year."

 
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