LANSING – A Citizens Research Council of Michigan study claims the state’s 1992 voter-initiated term-limits constitutional amendment has failed to broom out career politicians, increase diversity or make more elections competitive.
However, term-limits leader Patrick Anderson said the term-limits amendment didn’t advertise itself as a cure to many of the things the Wayne State University (WSU) researchers looked into. WSU graduate Kurt O’Keefe, an attorney, is requesting an academic investigation into whether the study violated Wayne State’s policy of avoiding fabrication.
The hubbub is over Evaluating The Effects of Term-limits On The Michigan Legislature, a 30-page report authored by WSU professors Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson and Lyke Thompson and circulated through the CRC.
The Thompsons contend that the state’s term-limits, among the shortest in the nation, have not created “citizen lawmakers” more focused on public policy, but have increased the view by lawmakers of their time in the Michigan House or Senate as a “stepping stone” to higher office.
“Term-limits have failed to strengthen ties between legislators and their districts or sever cozy relationships between legislators and lobbyists,” reads the report. “They have weakened the legislature vis-a`-vis the executive branch.”
Lawmakers today, under term-limits, are spending more time on activities that would be considered “electioneering than was the case before the 1992 limits went into effect.” The study was constructed around the question, “Many promises were made by term limit proponents. After more than 20 years, how many of those promises have been fulfilled?”
Anderson said the researchers wanted to read the actual campaign material — it’s in the State Archives — but he’s not aware that they did.
“I appealed to them to insist that this professor back up his assertions about proponents claims,” Anderson added. “Unfortunately, I think somebody got hoodwinked at Citizens Research Council.”
He also argues the paper’s assertion that proponents cited a desire to “drain the swamp” through term-limits is a reference that came to popularity long after 1992.
“‘Drain the swamp’ is a Donald Trump quote from 2016,” Anderson said. “Perhaps the most ridiculous is the use of a 2016 quote from Donald Trump to explain what Michigan voters were doing in 1992.” Anderson added that proponents also never promised term-limits would “sever the ties between lobbyists and legislators.”
CRC President Eric Lupher said he respects Anderson’s passion about term-limits and his work, but he also respects the research of the Thompsons. He noted the study’s claims about the intentions of proponents track work the CRC did on the proposal at the time and that “drain the swamp” was a phrase in existence long before Trump sought the White House.
The following are some of the “promised benefits” of term-limits that the CRC explored.
– Term-limits would provide for self-motivated citizens to go to the state capitol and create laws that they would go back home and live under.
CRC found “the reality is that after term-limits, more legislators say they were asked to run, and it is more likely that people doing this recruiting are interest groups or political elites.
“Based on post service interviews, respondents said it is not easy to find willing candidates to run for office, especially if it means derailing their own career for a very brief stint of service.”
– Expelling incumbents who were mostly white men, would help women and ethnic minorities win more state legislative seats, thereby diversifying state legislatures.
CRC notes that term-limits created a temporary surge in female state senators as term-limits forced House-elected female incumbents to run for the Senate. Once those women senators moved through the system, the number of female members of the Senate returned to its 1998, pre-term-limits level.
“But the pool of women in the House fell after term-limits from a peak of 28 percent in 1998 to a low of 17 percent in 2004. The same pattern was found in other term limited states where nationally, only about 25 percent of the seats vacated by women in lower chambers were then filled by other women.”
For African-American legislators, during the transition to term-limits, three African-American legislators were elected to represent non-African American majority districts. However, when those lawmakers were termed out, all of them were replaced by white lawmakers.
“The claim that we were trying to reduce the number of ‘white males’ is not only absurd, it’s insulting,” said Anderson of the assertion that proponents of term-limits sought to create greater diversity of candidates. “It’s insulting to me and the other two million people who voted for this, none of whom were interviewed by the professors.”
Anderson also notes there are more women running for the state legislature this cycle than ever before.
– Term-limits will result in more competitive elections.
The report contends that “open seats” in a pre-term limited era drew more quality candidates. In the post-term-limits world “the frequency of open seats are likely to make it harder to find quality candidates willing to run.”
“Using national data for state legislative elections from 1988 through 2010, we confirm that open seat elections (those without an incumbent running) are indeed more competitive, measured by the size of the margin of victory for the winning candidate. But open seat elections in term-limited states are not as competitive as are open seat races in non-term-limited states.”
For term-limited states, the average margin of victory in open seat elections was six percentage points larger (or less competitive) than in non-term-limited states.
– A new breed of term-limited lawmaker would be more responsive to voters.
While noting this is a difficult question to answer, the study points out that when lawmakers’ voting records are compared with the partisanship of their district, after term-limits legislators from both parties became more extreme than their constituents.
“Compared to their predecessors, Democrats became more liberal and Republicans became more conservative. Given the current level of partisan polarization nationally, that’s hardly surprising, but we limited our analysis to the 1992 district maps, the one in place when term-limits expelled the first cohort of veterans from the House.”
In the 1997-1998 session, the ideological gap between GOP lawmakers and their constituents was 19.6 percent. For Democratic lawmakers it was 10 percent. In the 2001-2002 session, GOP lawmakers’ voting records averaged 25 percent more conservative than their constituents and Democratic representatives’ voting records averaged 15 percent more liberal than their constituents.
– New post term limit lawmakers would rely on different information sources than special interest groups.
The CRC report found that on politically salient issues, such as schools of choice, interest groups appear to become more influential sources of information after term-limits while local sources appear to lose influence in the Senate and colleagues appear to be less important sources of information in the House.
By contrast, prior to term-limits, local sources were mentioned by the largest proportion of representatives and senators.
– Term-limits would improve selection of leadership caucuses.
On this front the report found that pre-term limited legislators were more wary of “commander-style” leaders. After term-limits, lawmakers in both chambers, especially the Senate, sought leaders who could enhance the re-election prospects of the caucus.