Should Term Limits Be Extended for Ohio Legislators?

Should term limits be extended from eight to twelve years for Ohio legislators? That’s the question being considered by the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commision, and if some career politicians and Columbus insiders get their way, Ohioans will see the issue on the ballot in 2015 or 2016.

Ohio first enacted term limits in 1992, when citizens voted in favor of a ballot initiative limiting the terms of legislators to eight consecutive years in one chamber. The constitutional amendment passed by a margin of 68.4 percent to 31.6 percent. Legislators would still free be to jump from chamber to chamber, or even return to the same chamber after sitting out a term (and many do just that), but consecutive years in one chamber were limited to eight.

At the time of the 1992 ballot initiative, Ohioans were concerned about entrenched career politicians who came to Columbus and never left. David Zanotti, CEO of the American Policy Roundtable, wrote in a recent editorial in the Plain Dealer,

“The biggest concern in 1992, after Congress, was the ‘lifetime-leadership crisis’ in the Ohio Legislature. The late Vern Riffe was Speaker for life. The same was true of the Senate President. People knew this was a portal for corruption. Term limits broke up that syndrome. Today, the leadership of the House and Senate are open to new members. No single personality can dominate the Statehouse for a lifetime.”

But opponents of term limits say we need legislators with experience and longevity because the job of a state lawmaker is extremely complex and it takes years to master the job.

Former Speaker Batchelder told the Columbus Dispatch that even the CPAs and physicians who join the legislature struggle to obtain the requisite knowledge for their positions.

“It’s not an intellectual matter; it’s an experience matter,” he said. “The senior members sort of have a pact among themselves to help the new members understand how the process works and how important working with others is to getting things done.”

“About half of the members understand the details of what’s going on,” he added.

Sen. Charleta B. Tavares, a Democrat, agrees. “You can’t teach what you don’t know. We have legislators assuming leadership positions who don’t even know the legislative process,” she said. “You’re handing over the power to the administration and the lobbyists.”

Voters, however, don’t seem to share these concerns, and they continue to support term limits. According to a poll conducted by the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research for the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron, in April 2014, 57 percent of Ohio registered voters say that term limits have helped the state. That opinion is virtually unchanged from 2005. A large majority of voters — a full 70 percent —  say the limits should be kept at 8 years.

Nevertheless, the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, siding with many members of the political class in Columbus, has two proposals under consideration, both of which would recommend amending Article II, Section 2 of the Ohio Constitution to add one term to the current limit imposed on state senators and two terms to the current limit imposed on state representatives. Under one of the proposals, members currently in the legislature would be eligible for the extended term limits.

So whose interests would extended term limits serve? Only those of the ruling class, according to Rob Walgate, Vice President of the American Policy Roundtable, testifying before the OCMC:

“[A] sad reality of the existing proposals by the Commission is that they have been generated by the legislature and people who make a living working near the legislative process. It is the career politicians and their lobbying allies alone who are advocating for these changes, which uniquely serve them. The people of Ohio are not asking for these changes. No petitions have been drawn. No signatures gathered. This is exclusively born out of self-interest on the part of politicians who simply want longer terms for their own reasons. Even though it is possible to serve a lifetime in the Ohio Legislature, this is not enough. The political class asks for more. They ask for an easier path to perpetual office holding and all the attending benefits.”

Despite the lack of public support for such a proposal, the legislature may, by joint resolution, place the issue on the ballot during this off-election year — at great expense to the taxpayers.

What will be left unaddressed by such a proposal is the root cause of the career politicians’ protestations:That a government too complicated to be understood by doctors and accountants — let alone average citizens — is grotesquely bloated and hopelessly out of touch with the people it is supposed to serve. Career politicians who spend dozens of years in office are largely insulated from the ever-growing stack of statutes they pass year after year, so they have little incentive to shrink the size and scope of government. Worse, their positions of power and incestuous relationships with lobbyists isolate them from the constituents they’ve promised to represent.

If the Columbus insiders are truly sincere in asserting that legislators are unable to master the intricacies and nuances of the work done under the Capitol dome until they have a term or two under their belts, then the answer is not longer terms, but a smaller, limited government. They should work on fixing that problem instead of scuttling around behind the scenes trying to consolidate power in the hands of a few “experts” who are allegedly qualified to rule over the rest of us.

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In addition to writing for Ohio Conservative Review, Paula writes for PJ Media and the Heartland Institute, and is co-author of the e-book Homeschooling: Fighting for My Children’s Future. She is also a member of the Wayne County Executive Committee. Paula describes herself as a Christian first, conservative second, and Republican third.

Read all OCR articles by Paula Bolyard.

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Image adapted from Wikimedia Commons/Dan Smith

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