Have term limits worked well enough to implement it for all state-elected offices? Those who like term limits have a simple answer: yes.
For that side of the argument, it’s all about incumbency.
“The power of incumbency gives voters less of an opportunity,” said Brian Downs, executive director of Oklahomans for Responsible Government. “It brings complacency, and I think it’s good for taxpayers to have fresh voices and new ideas that can bring new perspectives on how to solve most problems.”
For those who oppose term limits, the results of limiting the years of the elected service have gone wrong.
“I think they have had a horrible impact on the Legislature, on the institutional wisdom on both the House and Senate,” said state Attorney General Drew Edmondson. “We’ve lost the service of some awfully good people. As bright as some of the new people may be, by the time they figure out what’s going on, they’ve got limits on their own terms. We’re electing a Speaker of the House who only has two years left to serve.”
Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, is the designated speaker when session convenes in February.
State voters will have their say in November. State Question 747 would place limits on the number of years a person can serve in one of the statewide offices, which include governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, auditor and inspector, superintendent of school instruction, labor commissioner, insurance commissioner and corporation commissioner. All would be limited to eight years in office except for corporation commissioner, which would be limited to 12 years.
In 1992, voters implemented term limits for the Legislature, restricting a person’s time there for no more than 12 combined years in the House and Senate. The first elections to fill the vacancies of term-limited legislators came in 2004, leading to the Republican takeover of the state House. Before then, only the governor was term-limited.
Edmondson believes legislative term limits have shifted power away from lawmakers and toward special interests.
“Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does power,” Edmondson said. “It will go somewhere. If it is not being held in the hands of veteran officeholders, then it’s going to be lobbyists and bureaucrats who are not elected by anybody. But the power will still be wielded by someone.”
Downs has a different take.
“Can people on both sides say certain policies have not been met since term limits have been in place? Sure they can,” Downs said. “But I think that it gives them more opportunities, and gives less power to the special interests. That is one of the arguments that I do not understand.”
So far, the public seems to be with the term limiters. According to a survey conducted by SoonerPoll.com, three-fourths of the public support term limits for statewide offices. The poll found 77 percent in favor of SQ 747 with only 16 percent opposed and 7 percent unsure.
When term limits were debated for the Legislature nearly 20 years ago, one of the main arguments was they would weed out corrupt politicians. But Edmondson said the state doesn’t need term limits to do that.
“The bad apples that we’ve had ” the Carroll Fishers, the Jeff McMahans ” all of them were out of office before term limits,” Edmondson said. “They were either removed by a vote of the people or by their own transgressions.”
Fisher, former insurance commissioner, and McMahan, former state auditor and inspector, were convicted of corruption charges while in office and are now serving prison time.
In some respect, Downs agrees with Edmondson’s assessment.
“I don’t think term limits is the answer to corrupt politicians,” Downs said. “I think the nature of the business is where we are always going to see those types of issues. But the power of incumbency is definitely lessened.” “Scott Cooper
This measure, which amends the Oklahoma Constitution, limits the years a person can hold statewide elected office. Governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, labor commissioner, auditor and inspector, superintendent of public instruction and insurance commissioner are limited to eight years, and corporation commissioner is limited to 12 years.
A “yes” vote would impose term limits for those offices.
A “no” vote would reject imposing term limits for all statewide offices.