Michigan lawmakers asked to put term limits change on November ballot

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A coalition of groups from across the political spectrum called Monday on the Michigan Legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to alter the state's term limits and require officeholders to begin filing financial disclosures.

The request came from the committee Voters for Transparency and Term Limits, which has gained the backing of business groups; labor unions; Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a Democrat; and former state House Speaker Jase Bolger, a Republican.

"We urge the Legislature to step forward and give the people the chance to decide this issue," Bolger said during a press conference in Lansing on Monday afternoon.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan speaks at a press Voters for Transparency and Term Limits.

The proposal, if approved by voters, would be the first change to Michigan's term limits for lawmakers since the policy was put in place through a statewide vote in 1992.

Currently, members of the state House can serve three two-year terms, and members of state Senate can serve two four-year terms. So across the two chambers, someone can achieve a maximum possible tenure in the Legislature of 14 years (six years in the House and eight in the Senate).

The plan from Voters for Transparency and Term Limits, a campaign that was announced on March 1, would allow lawmakers to serve 12 years overall in Lansing, meaning they could potentially spend twice as much time in the House but then would forfeit the option to move to the Senate.

The coalition's leaders argued the current limits are too short and set up a revolving door with lawmakers moving from one position to another and then back again.

In addition, the proposal would impose personal financial disclosures for lawmakers and statewide elected officials, including the governor, to screen against conflicts of interest. Michigan has been one of two states without any required financial disclosure for legislators for years.

“People from all over Michigan are supporting these common sense changes because they know that state government should be working for them,” said Bishop Edgar Vann, CEO of Detroit Equity Inc. "I urge our state legislators to put transparency and term limits on the ballot and let the people decide."

To amend the Michigan Constitution, the House and Senate must vote to put a proposal on the statewide ballot. To do so, two-thirds of legislators in each chamber must support the measure and the votes must occur 60 days before the election.

The other way to amend the constitution is for a group to gather petition signatures and win a statewide vote. Voters for Transparency and Term Limits would need 425,059 signatures, a difficult threshold, by July 11 to get the proposal on the ballot in November.

Duggan told reporters Monday the coalition continues to pursue both options. It's unclear whether the leaders of the state Legislature and enough lawmakers in each chamber would support putting a term limits change on the ballot.

"I think we've talked to all 148 (lawmakers)," Duggan said. "Pretty much, all 148 agree the system between term limits and disclosure is bad. And they have 148 ideas on how to fix it."

Among the groups that participated in Monday's press conference were the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters of Michigan, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights and Michigan Realtors.

As of April 25, Voters for Transparency and Term Limits reported raising $157,500. Its top donors were real estate developer Stephen Ross, who gave $75,000, and utility DTE Energy, which gave $50,000.

However, there is also opposition to the proposal, including from the Term Limits Defense Fund, which has labeled the measure a scheme "to destroy term limits."

Likewise, Nick Tomboulides, executive director of U.S. Term Limits, said the supporters of the proposal "know it's not possible currently for most termed-out House members to reach the Senate."

"Because of the respective chamber sizes," Tomboulides said. "So they have crafted a Trojan horse amendment which appears on the surface to be pro-term limits but which really creates more career politicians. The aim here, plain and simple, is to swindle the voters."

Businessman Kevin Rinke, a Republican candidate for governor from Bloomfield Township, previously spoke out against the idea of the Legislature using its power to put the proposal on the ballot.

"They know this proposal is a difficult sell to Michigan voters, so they are trying to get legislators to put it on the ballot instead of getting voters to put it on the ballot through a petition process," Rinke said in March. "That saves the career politicians and their supporters the millions it would cost to gather signatures but denies voters the key role they should play in the process."

In the past, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, voiced support for changing term limits but has spoken against financial disclosure proposals.

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, supports term limits and financial disclosures but is focused on getting a House ethics reform plan enacted, Wentworth's spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said in March.

"He'll take a look if it comes to his desk," D'Assandro said of the amendment proposal. "Right now he's focused on the bills in the Legislature."