Finley: Term limits may finally get a fix

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
Voters Not Politicians is pulling together political forces from across the spectrum to mount a ballot initiative to fix the term limits law that passed in 1992.

This is one crazy looking dance floor.

The group of free-wheeling activists who changed the rules for redrawing Michigan's political districts, and the staid state Chamber of Commerce, which fought them at the polls. Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature who rarely take a pause from their mutual head bashing. Funders of liberal causes and bankrollers of conservative ones.

All out there together taking the first hesitant steps toward finally unshackling Michigan from the albatross of term limits.

 And maybe it's just an audacious enough alliance to work.

Voters Not Politicians is pulling together political forces from across the spectrum to mount a ballot initiative to fix the term limits law that passed in 1992.

There's wide agreement that term limits have not worked. Instead of creating citizen politicians who serve for a short period and then return to their communities, it has produced generations of pogo sticking pols who leap from one office to the next as their terms expire.

Lawmakers are less experienced and don't have enough time to become expert on the issues facing Michigan, or how to solve them. Term limits produce leaders who are too green to effectively pull together their caucuses.

They're a mess. We've known that for years. But no one has been willing to put up the resources and elbow grease necessary to reform them.

With Voters Not Politicians taking up the challenge, that could change. I opposed VNP during last year's redistricting ballot drive, seeing the group as a Democratic front seeking to give that party an advantage in the drawing of political boundaries. I still think that.

But I can't deny its success at organizing an army of volunteers to gather signatures and campaign on behalf of the proposal, nor its skill at raising money. VNP took in roughly $15 million for the redistricting campaign.

Getting term limits reform on the ballot and passed could cost even more. U.S. Term Limits, a national group dedicated to defending term limit laws, is well-funded and likely to oppose any attempt to alter the Michigan statute.

 VNP does not want to scrap term limits altogether. Nobody thinks that's possible. 

While the details of the proposal await research on what voters might accept, the most likely measure would extend the amount of time lawmakers could serve. Current law restricts service in the House to three, two-year terms and in the Senate to two, four-year terms.

An idea that's been floated in other forums would set a 12-year limit on legislative service, and allow the years to be spent either all in one chamber or split between the two. That seems reasonable, and would give lawmakers enough time to settle into their jobs and learn what they're supposed to be doing.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake

It's possible that a term-limits extension would be paired with other reforms, including much tougher ethics laws for lawmakers, restrictions on future lobbying and financial penalties for missing work. 

No formal committee has been formed, but talks are in progress. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has said he'd like the Legislature to place a term limits ballot proposal on the 2022 ballot. 

It might be a stretch, but my hope is this new group will push for 2020.

Catch Nolan Finley on One Detroit at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on Detroit Public Television.