Arkansas Term Limits spokesman Tim Jacob says it’s time for the wishes of state voters to be honored and this year’s term limits proposal should keep lawmakers from altering them in the future.
On Friday, supporters of a proposal to curtail term limits gained approval of signatures from the Secretary of State’s office to qualify for the November ballot.
The measure would restrict Arkansas House members to 3 two-year terms and Arkansas Senators to 2 four-year terms, just like an original term limits measure, passed in 1992, did. However, this year’s measure adds three more provisions.
First, it caps legislative service at a maximum of 10 years regardless of the mixture of House or Senate terms. Secondly, it prohibits state legislators from referring a constitutional amendment to change term limits – in effect, forcing any changes to term limits to go through the citizens’ initiative process. Thirdly, it allows any legislator elected in 2018 who may exceed the service terms to complete their term.
"If the voters vote them in, we certainly don’t want to reject a voter’s decision. So they are going to be grandfathered in for lack of a better word," said Jacob.
He argued his group is not monolithic with a “throw the bums out” mentality. Rather, many members of his coalition thinks limiting service will be healthy for democracy.
"There are some people that [say] ‘throw the bums out.’ I’m not one of those. I’ve got friends in the legislature. I’ve had friends in the legislature. I think they do an honorable job most of the time. But I think healthy turnover is important," Jacob said. "I think the term limit for president, regardless of party, works wonderfully. The term limit for the governor works well. The term limit for lieutenant governor works well. And so I think the legislature needs to be limited as well. And I think when you get fresh people in there, it’s fresh ideas, and I don’t think anybody’s indispensable in the legislature."
Term limits was originally passed by about 60% of the state’s voters in 1992. A measure to extend term limits was rejected by nearly 70% of the state’s voters in 2004. In 2014, an ethics amendment passed by voters by a 53-47% margin also included a provision that extended term limits to the current range of 16 years. Jacob said Arkansas Term Limits believes that hidden clause tricked voters into extending legislators’ terms.
"We’re kind of tired of the legislature rejecting the will of the people," he said. "I mean this wasn’t a close election in 1992. This wasn’t a close election in 2004 when they tried to double their terms, and we think that the legislature should at least accept the voters will."
Political observers believe there is little doubt that the 2018 ballot measure will pass at the polls in November. High profile public corruption cases have snared legislators from both political parties as stories of bribes and influence have led to prison terms and resignation from office of at least five former legislators.
Jacob is a realist about politics and doesn’t think term limits will solve problems of public corruption, reduce taxes or lead to wholesale policy changes. He does think it will draw more people into public service, and that’s his main goal.
"Term limits is no panacea. It’s not going to solve every problem right away, but I think it’s a vital first step in bringing back representative government in the state."
This story has been revised to correct that political observers believe the proposal will be approved by voters.