Fight is on to put Michigan term limit reform directly before voters
LANSING — Supporters of a ballot measure to revamp Michigan’s legislative term limits and financial disclosure laws on Monday called upon the state Legislature to directly put the issue before voters in November.
Doing so would bypass signature requirements for ballot proposal campaigns, but legislative leaders have failed to pass similar legislation for years and were noncommittal on Monday.
The bipartisan coalition Voters for Transparency and Term Limits is pushing a proposal to cap the maximum tenure for legislators at a total 12 years and apply personal financial disclosure requirements to lawmakers, the governor, the state attorney general and the secretary of state similar to those for members of Congress.
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The coalition consists of labor unions, business groups, trial lawyers, insurance providers and voting rights groups. It also features former and current politicians such as former House Speaker Jase Bolger, a Republican, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a Democrat.
State lawmakers now can serve up to six years, or three two-year terms, in the House, and up to eight years, or two four-year terms, in the Senate. After they hit the cap in one chamber, they can choose to run for a seat in the other, spending up to an overall 14 years in the Legislature.
Bolger told reporters Monday the initiative “removes” the incentives for lawmakers to prioritize election to another chamber over their constituents. He and other supporters say the change would allow lawmakers to gain institutional knowledge and improve government.
“This is the right solution that balances a people’s Legislature while removing a political incentive,” Bolger said.
Opponents such as Patrick Anderson, who helped draft the language of current term limit laws in 1992, have argued the proposal could prolong terms. He and other critics formed the ballot committee Term Limits Defense Fund to campaign against the proposal.
Greg Schmid, a Saginaw attorney whose father also fought for term limits, deemed the proposal a move to “gut term limits.”
“They present a proposal mischaracterized as improving term limits, complete with a loss leader of a deceptive transparency measure, and are prepared to say anything, do anything, and spend anything necessary to get back to the pre-term limits days when senior legislators could broker public policy with relative impunity,” Schmid said in a press release last week.
Michigan’s current 14-year term limit is one of the most stringent among the 15 states with legislative term limits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Michigan and Idaho are the only two states that do not require elected or appointed officials to disclose their personal financial information. Under the proposal, officials must periodically disclose their assets, all forms of income, purchases, sales or exchanges of property or security, liabilities, positions held outside their elected office, arrangements regarding future employment, continuing benefits from former employers other than the state and payments and gifts received.
The term limits reform group is one of more than a dozen ballot committees vying to place state legislation or constitutional amendments on the November ballot. All must collect voter signatures, and, this year, inflation and worker shortages are driving up costs for professional signature gatherers.
At least four candidates statewide, including GOP gubernatorial hopeful James Craig, face accusations of submitting forged signatures.
But Michigan law allows groups seeking to amend the Michigan constitution through ballot measures to bypass signature requirements if two-thirds of legislators vote to put the issue before voters.
Voters for Transparency and Term Limits faces a July 11 deadline to collect 425,059 signatures, and campaign manager Jason Roe said he’s confident they will do so.
When asked by reporters if the campaign was having trouble gathering enough signatures, Duggan said the campaign only wants to devote more time and resources to educating voters.
“If this were on the ballot now, we can start the conversation today to talk to voters about why it’s important,” Duggan said. “If we have to wait until mid-July to submit (the signatures) and they don’t get counted and certified until August, you significantly shorten the campaign.”
Duggan said Monday the campaign has talked to “all 148 legislators” who “agree the existing system between term limits and disclosure is bad.”
“They have 148 ideas on how to fix it,” he said Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, noted in a Monday statement he has “long said that we need to revisit term limits and improve transparency without discouraging good people from running for office.”
He has previously questioned financial disclosures, saying they could “absolutely” discourage some qualified candidates. On Monday, he said he will hold a vote on the ballot measure if enough lawmakers believe “voters should have their say.”
House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, will “listen to his caucus and what individual representatives are hearing in their local districts,” his spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro wrote in a text.
“If they agree to send this to the ballot and give the voters a chance to decide, he will talk to the Senate and the House Democrats about how to handle the proposal,” D’Assandro said.
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