Finley: Got experience? Michigan says get out of office
Imagine showing up for the first day of a job and finding out nearly everyone else in the workplace, including the managers, are new, too.
Where do you start? What are the priorities? Where are the restrooms?
That’s the situation that will face the new lawmakers who will be seated in Lansing in January.
Michigan is losing 24 of its 110 representatives to term limits in the fall election. That’s absorbable, perhaps.
Not so much in the Senate, where two-thirds, or 26 of the 38 senators, can’t run for re-election.
House Speaker Tom Leonard and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhoff are departing, along with most of the committee leadership of the two chambers.
Gov. Rick Snyder has served out his two terms and will say goodbye, as will Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
Basically, state government will be starting from scratch. Much of the knowledge, the relationships, the instincts accumulated will seep away.
Critical and complex issues like no-fault insurance reform and Medicaid expansion will be left to novices to sort out.
Voters chose term limits in 1992 thinking it would break the hold of entrenched politicians and create a citizen-led government more responsive to the people.
Instead, it’s turned the Legislature into amateur night, and placed veteran staffers and lobbyists in the driver’s seat, guiding hapless lawmakers through their first few years in office and welcoming in a new batch every year.
I support term limits for the statewide offices – governor, attorney general, secretary of state.
But for the legislative branch, the meager amount of time on the job – eight years in the Senate and six in the House – doesn’t give legislators enough time to develop policy-making expertise. They no sooner arrive than they’re looking ahead to their next job.
I’ve been working through House and Senate endorsements all week, and it struck me how much term limits deprive Michigan of good leadership. Take a look at some who will be booted out at the end of this year.
Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, is one of the foremost education policy experts in the Legislature. But he’ll be gone just as Michigan makes another major push to reform its schools.
Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, is gaining tremendous momentum on reforming Michigan’s corrections system. His work is groundbreaking, but not near done. But he is, finishing his second Senate term after three terms in the House.
Sen. Morris Hood III, D-Detroit, is an ardent voice for the people of the city. He’ll be shouting from the sidelines come January.
Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, who has deep knowledge of how the institution works, and why it doesn’t; Sen Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee; Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, who guided the Detroit Public Schools bailout through the Senate – all will be missing when difficult debates resume in the next session.
There are some impressive newcomers among the candidates I’m reviewing to replace all these folks. I’m sure eventually they will become effective lawmakers, if they win. But there aren’t as many stars among them as I had hoped. The truth is we are burning through talent in Michigan.
And look at the momentum we lose while we wait for the promising ones to mature as leaders.
I’m about sick of harping about term limits. Everyone seems to agree they are hurting Michigan. But no one seems up to doing anything about it. Meanwhile, Michigan’s ballot this fall will be sagging with initiatives, none of which will help the state improve near as much as dumping term limits would.
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