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Bridge Michigan
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Campaign begins to oppose Michigan term limit reform ballot proposal

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Michigan has one of the strictest term limit laws in the nation. Those seeking changes say they deprive the state of effective leaders, but the limits are popular with voters. (Shutterstock)
  • The Michigan Legislature placed the term limits and financial disclosure reform directly on the November ballot.
  • Supporters praised the measure as strengthening transparency requirements and lowering the overall term limits.
  • Critics say it would not do much to improve disclosure rules and would allow incumbents to remain in the Legislature longer.

LANSING — Opponents to a term limits reform and financial disclosure proposal on the November ballot have launched a campaign against the measure.

Term Limits Defense Fund, a ballot question committee working against the initiative, is launching a “digital-first” campaign that seeks to unify voters against expanding terms for current and former lawmakers, said campaign manager Keith Allard.

Sponsor

The ballot measure, championed by the bipartisan coalition Voters for Transparency and Term Limits, seeks to amend the state Constitution to allow legislators to serve up to a total 12 years in the state Legislature, regardless of the chamber they are in.

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Without debate or prior notice, the state Legislature voted in May to weaken some requirements in the initiative and place the revised version directly on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The move, negotiated with the coalition led by legislative powerbrokers, allowed its supporters to skip requirements to collect more than 425,000 valid signatures and may have saved the campaign  millions of dollars of funds and resources.

Michigan has some of the strictest term limits in the nation. State lawmakers can serve up to six years (or three two-year terms) in the House and eight years (or two four-year terms) in the Senate. They can serve up to a total of 14 years in the state Legislature, but not all of them run for the Senate after serving full terms in the House, or vice versa.

One study has found the current term limits, adopted in the 1990s, has failed to rid the state of career politicians and increase diversity in the Legislature, but polls show voters overwhelmingly favor them. 

The Legislature-approved ballot measure would also require lawmakers and state officials — including the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and attorney general — to disclose personal financial information such as sources of income or description of assets.

The language is weakened from what was originally proposed, which would have required officials to disclose actual income, assets and liabilities instead of descriptions. 

The previous version also would have required lawmakers to disclose gifts and payments received from anyone, but the Legislature-approved initiative would only require disclosure of gifts and payments from registered lobbyists. 

Supporters of the measure praised the Legislature’s efforts to place the issue directly on the ballot. 

“By putting transparency and term limit reform on the ballot in November, they are allowing the people of Michigan to play an important role in moving our state forward,” Voters for Transparency and Term Limits previously said in a statement.

Allard — a former House Republican staffer who blew the whistle on the extramarital affairs between former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat — told Bridge Michigan he does not trust the state Legislature to “handle itself.”

“It really struck me as a self-serving behavior,” Allard said of the legislative approval of the ballot measure. “I don’t believe the Legislature can police itself.”

The campaign does not have to file its first campaign finance report until Friday. Allard said the campaign will definitely be “underfunded” but he hopes to win on the messaging. 

“We are going to be the garage band out there,” he said, adding the group plans a “humorous” and “creative” campaign.

Scott Tillman, national field director for U.S. Term Limits, called the ballot proposal “poll-manufactured transparency from this lobbyist-written proposition.”

“Term limits were approved by Michigan voters who do not want to go back to the days of career politicians serving decades in office and cutting backroom deals like (the ballot proposal),” Tillman said in a Wednesday statement. 

The term limit ballot measure spokesperson John Truscott told Bridge on Wednesday tha opposition group was “created in search of a problem.” 

If the campaign against the term limits proposal wanted to change the ballot proposal, they should have pushed for a rival ballot proposal or legislative changes through the state Legislature, Truscott said.

Sponsor

“Groups like this just like to say ‘no’ to everything,” he said. “If they were serious and sincere, then they would do something concrete and they would put a plan together.”

Two other constitutional amendment proposals could also appear on the November ballot. Both submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures that must be reviewed by the state Bureau of Elections and certified by the Board of State Canvassers before making the ballot.

Reproductive Freedom for All would enshrine abortion rights into the Michigan Constitution.

Promote the Vote 2022 would allow nine days of early voting, publicly subsidize absentee ballots and track ballot locations, let voters register absentee ballots for all future elections and continue to allow registered voters without an ID to attest to their identity with an affidavit, among other things.

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