Opinion: Respect the will of Michigan voters on term limits

Patrick L. Anderson

This past week, a group of former legislators, all of whom now work as lobbyists, gathered in another lobbyist’s office. Flanked by attorneys they had hired with funds from a source they refused to disclose, they announced they were filing a lawsuit against the state of Michigan and its Constitution.

These legislator-lobbyists, all of whom swore an oath to defend the Michigan Constitution, now are asking a federal judge to set it aside. Their rationale is that our term limits amendment somehow “infringes” upon their “rights” as American citizens because it prevents them from running again for an office they previously held for multiple terms.

Attorney John Bursch speaks about a new lawsuit challenging Michigan's term limits on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, beside former lawmakers Roger Kahn (left) and Mary Valentine (right).

As a citizen who worked to put the term limits amendment in front of Michigan voters 27 years ago, and as a supporter of the Constitution, I strongly object to this latest effort to overturn the clear direction of the voters. Let me list a few of the reasons why:

►First, the 1992 proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution by imposing term limits on elected state officials was placed in front of voters through a citizen initiative involving over 400,000 signatures. Despite the proponents being handily outspent by opposing groups, Michigan’s citizens approved the amendment with over 58% voting in favor. This is clearly the will of the electorate, duly adopted after a full public debate and a contested election.

►Second, this Michigan term limit amendment joins the XXII amendment to the United States Constitution, which similarly restricts certain office-holders. There is no question that term limits are consistent with the U.S. Constitution, as the U.S. Constitution also includes term limits.

►Third, term limits — originally known as “rotation in office” — have been an American tradition for over 240 years. In fact, the State of Michigan came into the Union by the Northwest Ordinance, which was adopted by a term-limited U.S. Congress in 1787. While these latest opponents claim it is a “social experiment,” in fact it is a long and proud American tradition. Term limits have been fundamental to our country’s success in maintaining the freedoms we enjoy.

►Fourth, these legislators swore an oath to uphold the Michigan Constitution. It is disgraceful for them to now go before a federal judge and ask for it to be put aside.

If these legislator-lobbyists want to change the state’s Constitution, they should do what others have done (and which that same constitution guarantees they have the opportunity to do): get up and ask their neighbors to sign a petition to change it, and then convince enough voters that they are right. Instead, they have taken the low road in accepting money from undisclosed special interests and asking a federal judge to overturn the will of the people.

Patrick Anderson

I will close by noting what our attorney general once argued to the United States Supreme Court when another of our constitutional provisions was challenged: “to strike down a public initiative ... operates to thwart the will of the people in the most literal sense,”  and would “disenfranchise” over two million Michigan voters. Those were true words then, and they are true now.

We debated it, we voted for it, and we have followed it for over a quarter century. It is our Constitution. These lobbyist-legislators should respect it—or have the courage to ask voters to change it.

Patrick L. Anderson is the principal and CEO of Anderson Economic Group.