In a divided and bitterly fought election year, there was one issue that had a 100% pass rate across the country on November 8th, 2016: term limits.
Over 40 different ballot measures across the country had a 100 percent pass rate for term limits. These votes were spread across the nation from California and Texas to New York. Hawaii even got in on the action.
These term limits ballot amendments covered school boards, mayors, city and county boards. Citizens also defeated initiatives that tried to weaken their current term limits.
Philip Blumel, president of U.S. Term Limits, said “the American people are tired of career politicians forgetting who they are supposed to be serving. This outstanding result for term limits is a real victory for the people.”
The 100 percent pass rate was unprecedented. In 2014 the pass rate was 97 percent, so bipartisan support for term limits is not unusual. Each referendum for term limits averaged 74 percent of the vote with a mean of 75.5 percent.
The support for term limits ranged from 88 percent in Crestwood, IL to 57 percent in Honolulu. The Honolulu vote successfully fought off a bill that would have weakened local term limits.
Americans continue to show a preference for citizen legislators over careerist politicians. These results demonstrate a growing belief that elected officials have lost touch with the people.
“It is no surprise, after this historic year for term limits, that action is already underway to slap term limits on Congress,” said Blumel.
In late February, the Florida house approved a measure that to ask voters to limit the justices of the state supreme court to 12 years. But the political hurdles for such a term limit are higher in the state senate. At present Florida justices may serve until a mandatory retirement age of 70.
Orlando, FL. A group called Eight Is Enough Orlando (EightIsEnoughOrlando.com) is collecting signatures for a ballot measure to limit the city’s mayor and commissioners to eight consecutive years in office. “For too long,” states the outfit’s web site, “career politicians in the Mayor’s office and on the City Council have been able to serve indefinitely, while all other elected officials in Central Florida have strict term-limits.” About 15,000 valid petition signatures are needed to bring the measure to ballot.
Roswell, GA. By a 4-2 vote, the Roswell city council has passed a charter amendment to limit themselves to three consecutive four-year terms in office, not counting terms served before 2017. The term limit must be approved by the state legislature before it can be enacted. But Roswell’s mayor, Jere Wood, first elected in 1997, is a firm foe of the measure, saying that he fears that it would lead to a dearth of candidates. Wood promised when first running for the seat that would serve no more than two terms as mayor. His current term is his fifth.
In a state where the pro-term-limits Governor Bruce Rauner continues to be at loggerheads with state lawmakers and other entrenched members of the Illinois political class — who oppose even the faintest glimmer of a wisp of any substantive political reform — voters continue to massively support term limits and other structural improvements of the status quo. A recent survey conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute finds that two thirds of voters in the state support redistricting reform and 78% support term limits
on state lawmakers. Measures addressing both were blocked from reaching the ballot in 2014 despite overwhelming public support.
Alsip, IL. In a mid-March decision, 81% of village voters backed a measure to limit the mayor and village trustees to three consecutive terms. The measure had been referred to the ballot by the trustees, who did so despite a veto by the third-term mayor.
Homer Glen, IL. At the same time, Homer Glen voters passed a more limited but more limiting term limit, a two-term cap on tenure albeit only on their mayor, by the even larger majority of 89%. According to the Chicago Tribune, several voters interviewed “cited House Speaker Michael Madigan as an elected official who should not be reelected.” Madigan has been in the house since 1971 and its speaker for all but two years (1995-1996) since 1983.
Crestwood, IL. The Crestwood village board unanimously referred a measure to the November ballot that asks voters to approve a limit on the tenure of village officials of three consecutive four-year terms.
St. Tammany Parish, LA. In early March, voters by the overwhelming majority of 83% approved term limits of three four-year terms on Parish council members. A local group supporting term limits, Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany (CCST), had pushed the council to refer a term limit question to the ballot, but was unhappy with the 12-year limit that voters were asked to approve. Moreover, the limit does not begin to go into effect until 2020. CCST had wanted voters to consider a maximum tenure of two four-year terms.
In a public letter, it argued that the council “[has structured] the voter choices to serve their own self-interest. Their scheme is…a trick to perpetuate their incumbency until at least the year 2032, regardless of the vote.”
New York State’s Reform Party has the right idea about how institutions outside of government should be exerting pressure to make term limits happen. This year it won’t even consider nominating any state-level candidates who push for term limits right now.
Says Reform Party Chairman Bill Merrill: “We’re going to make things very simple for 2016. We will only consider granting ballot status to candidates who demand a floor vote on term limits in Albany this year. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a true citizen
legislature of the type our founders envisioned; only term limits can deliver one back to the people.”
And here’s Reform Party Treasurer Patrick Ziegler: “We do expect that any candidate who receives the Reform Party endorsement will advocate for an up-or-down vote on term limits for senators and assembly people.”
New York is perhaps the state where the most non-incumbents (i.e., ordinary voters) agree the most vehemently that state lawmakers should be finally, finally, finally subject to term limits in light of all the billowing and endless corruption in the state legislature.
(We concede that Illinois and a few other states with un-term-limited legislatures may also be in the running for this…honor.)
It’s up to the Oklahoma house now to decide whether voters will consider a measure to increase the term limits on the lieutenant government, attorney general, insurance commissioner, and several other statewide officers from eight years to 12 years. The tenure lengthening measure was approved 32-12 by the state senate. It must now get past the house before going to voters.
Shelby County, TN. Shelby County has a three-strikes approach to posting referenda to the ballot. The commissioners must consider a proposal on three separate readings. On March 7, they rejected a referendum to eliminate two-term limits on commissioners and
other county officers with six no votes, three yes votes, and three abstentions. On the second reading, March 28, the question failed five no votes to three yes votes, with another three commissioners “either not voting or formally abstaining.” But the third and final
reading of the proposal, originally scheduled for April 11, has been deferred at the behest of its sponsor until May.
In March the Utah Supreme Court declined to rule on whether the lieutenant governor of the state, Spencer Cox, abused his authority by blocking a petition drive that would have put on the ballot a question on term-limiting appointees to state boards and commissions. Utah Term Limits NOW! had asked that the court to force Cox to rescind his rejection of its application. But, failing a timely decision from the court, the group was obliged to abandon its attempt to get the question on this year’s ballot. Then, precisely because Cox did indeed succeed in stopping the petition drive, the high court unanimously declined to rule on whether he had done wrong, perversely declared the case “moot” — as if initiative rights in the state will never be exercised again, nor in a way inconvenient to officeholders inclined to illicitly prevent that exercise of initiative rights.