Part-time legislature for term limited legislators?

Published 9:57 am Monday, June 26, 2017

In 1992, the voters of Michigan approved a ballot initiative limiting the number of terms that state representatives and senators could serve.

For state representatives, the limit is three two-year terms.  For state senators, the limit is two four-year terms.

For full disclosure, from 1980 until 1986, I served as the press secretary for the Republican Caucus of the Michigan House of Representatives. Back then, the Legislature had a central staff and each state representative had one aide. This means I worked for sometimes more than 45 legislators.

Weekly columns, speech writing, legislative media strategy and other chores were included in my job description.

Up until 1992, many of the legislators served as many as 20 terms. Several legislators used their House seats as stepping stones for higher office. Others took offers of lucrative state lobbyist positions, so that  they could lobby their long-time friends in the Legislature.

This all came to an end in 1992, when term limits became the law.  I had already returned to Washington, D.C., to become a federal lobbyist in 1986, so I did not witness what it was like when the change took effect, but throwing out popular long-term legislators had to be rough. 

Rough, except for those term-limited souls who became wealthy state lobbyists.

That is the way Lansing works now with term-limited officials.  They become lobbyists instead of returning home, and I think this is not what the supporters of term limits anticipated.

Another unexpected result of term limits is the number of relatives of legislators that seek office using their family name. The current Michigan House of Representatives is peopled with the children, grandchildren and spouses of former term-limited state legislators. I don’t think the supporters of term limits anticipated the creation of family-run political machines.

So now, the voters are being asked to limit the number of days that the State Legislature can operate. As proposed by Lt. Governor Brian Calley, who introduced the part-time legislature proposal, the State Legislature will be limited to meeting only 90 consecutive days annually. Legislators will also see their pay slashed nearly in half.

Speaking from experience, I think it will  be difficult to find quality and capable candidates for a six-year office that meets only 90 days per year.

A part-time legislature in Lansing will undoubtedly lead to new unforeseen  shenanigans as part-time legislators seek meaningful (i.e. lucrative) work, like maybe lobbying?

Be careful what you vote for.

A native of Niles, Jack Strayer moved back home in 2009 after living and working in Washington DC since 1976. Strayer has served as a congressional staffer, state legislative press secretary, federal registered lobbyist and Vice President of the National Center for Policy Analysis. He is a nationally recognized expert on federal health policy reform and led the fight for the enactment of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).