Campaign launches in Michigan to change term limits, require disclosure

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A bipartisan effort to change Michigan's term limits and require financial disclosure from lawmakers launched Tuesday with support from former House Speaker Jase Bolger, a Republican, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a Democrat.

Michigan lawmakers currently can serve up to six years in the House, three two-year terms, and up to eight years in the Senate, two four-year terms. The proposed constitutional amendment aims to shrink the maximum overall time in Lansing from 14 years to 12 years but allows legislators to serve those years in either the House or the Senate.

The change would be significant, potentially doubling the time Michigan House members can serve in the chamber from six years to 12 years. But they then would lose the opportunity to run for the Senate. Some term limit advocates were critical of the idea, contending it was a covert move to weaken the 30-year-old restrictions that have been controversial but faced few serious challenges in recent years.

A bipartisan effort to change Michigan's term limits and require financial disclosure from lawmakers launched Tuesday with support from former House Speaker Jase Bolger, a Republican, shown here in a file photo, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a Democrat.

Meanwhile, Michigan and Idaho are the only states without any form of financial disclosure for lawmakers to combat conflicts of interest. The proposal would alter that by requiring Michigan legislators, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state to report "where they have financial ties that could impact their judgment on legislation," according to the new campaign.

"This is our opportunity to drive change and accountability in Lansing and beyond," Bolger said in a Tuesday statement. "By requiring financial disclosure and strengthening term limits, we can drive a level of transparency and accountability in Michigan that will best serve the hardworking men and women across our state for years to come."

Under the new proposal, state officeholders would have to file an annual financial disclosure report and periodic transaction reports with the Secretary of State's office.

The disclosure would cover assets, income, positions held with outside organizations and agreements on future employment. The reports would also cover travel payments and reimbursements, an area on which legislators have to release little to no information currently.

The campaign is seeking to amend the Michigan Constitution through a statewide vote, but it requires gathering 425,059 petition signatures to put the measure on the ballot in November.

The deadline to submit the signatures to the Secretary of State's office is July 11.

Michigan voters approved the constitutional amendment initiative to impose term limits in 1992, and past efforts to change them have failed. But Duggan said the state House had turned into "one large revolving door" with newly elected representatives quickly beginning to think about what Senate seat they'll run for.

"Even the best of the House of Representatives (members) end up looking at that House seat as a stepping stone," Duggan said. "We started having conversations about this because Michigan certainly is not served well by that circumstance."

But Nicolas Tomboulides, executive director of the group U.S. Term Limits, described the proposal on Tuesday as a scam on social media. Not all lawmakers get 14 years in Lansing currently, he noted, because there are 110 seats in the House and only 38 seats in the Senate, meaning more House members currently can't move to the Senate when their terms are up.

"The practical goal is to double term limits for House members (without informing voters)," Tomboulides tweeted.

Likewise, Patrick Anderson, who wrote the 1992 amendment, said he would not support the new proposal or its effort "to fool the voters into thinking this is about 'transparency.'"

The coalition backing the term limits change should push the Legislature to impose financial disclosure requirements, Anderson said. Instead, the group is using "their failures to adopt laws as an excuse to increase their power," he said.

"Let me make the math transparent: This proposal would double the time a person could serve in the House of Representatives," Anderson said. "We would re-open the door we slammed shut in 1992, and once again see committee chairs serve a decade.

"Speakers could once again banish upstart representatives to basement offices. Government buildings would again sprout with the name of powerful legislators."

Bolger, who represented the Marshall area in the House, acknowledged the public generally supports term limits.

"That's why it's important to not just keep term limits but to keep and strengthen term limits," he said.

The former GOP lawmaker served two terms as the speaker before term limits forced him from office at the end of 2014.

A bipartisan effort to change Michigan's term limits and require financial disclosure from lawmakers launched Tuesday with support from former House Speaker Jase Bolger, a Republican, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a Democrat, shown here on Jan. 27, 2022.

The language of the proposal will be submitted to the Board of State Canvassers for consideration at its March 23 meeting. After that, the campaign plans to begin gathering signatures.

Duggan described the coalition behind the campaign as "very unusual," featuring business and labor leaders. Rich Studley, former president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and Nia Winston, president of Unite Here Local 24, spoke in support of the campaign at Tuesday's press conference.

Asked who will fund the initiative — it will likely require millions of dollars to gather the signatures and promote it — Studley said the plan is to have Democratic and Republican leaders raise the resources needed to "have a very important statewide debate."

"It will be a combination of sources from across the state, and we're determined to be successful," Studley said. "We'll do what it takes to get this proposal moving forward."

The campaign's fundraising committee is called Voters for Transparency and Term Limits.

State Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, a lead transparency advocate in the Michigan Legislature, supported the ballot campaign on Tuesday.

One of the persistent problems in Lansing is once someone reaches a top leadership position in the House, the individual is a lame duck and unaccountable, Moss said.

He referenced an ongoing criminal investigation into former House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, who served as House leader in 2019 and 2020 after four years in the chamber. Chatfield has denied wrongdoing.

"This place is dysfunctional," Moss said.

Voters Not Politicians, an organization that successfully gathered petitions in 2018 to overhaul Michigan's redistricting process by amending Michigan's constitution, has previously supported ethics reforms in Michigan.

The group doesn't expect to be directly involved in the term limits campaign but backs the goals of the effort, said Hannah Lupi a spokeswoman for Voters Not Politicians.

cmauger@detroitnews.com