NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Seeking a Way Around Term Limits

March 4, 2002

When states started adopting term limits in the early 1990s, the aim was to get rid of entrenched politicians and open the political process to new blood. But some termed-out lawmakers are seeking and finding new ways to continue holding office.

  • One strategy is to accept a demotion, in effect -- stepping down from a state's Senate to run for a seat in its House, for example, or moving from state to county or local office.
  • Another is to pair up with another legislator to swap seats -- such as two sets of termed-out legislators did successfully in California and South Dakota during the 2000 elections.
  • In addition to trying to strike down term-limit laws in some states, efforts to extend the length of terms are underway in California, Florida, Maine and Michigan.
  • Polls show most voters still favor the limits.

Term limits hit the Michigan Senate for the first time this year, and at least four of 27 termed-out senators have indicated they will run for lower offices.

Elsewhere, more than a dozen state senators in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine and South Dakota have stepped down to seats in the lower chamber after having been termed out, or are trying to do so this year. And there are numerous instances of lawmakers moving down to local posts -- including county boards and city councils.

Source: Andrew Caffrey and Mitchel Benson, "Term Limits Have Unexpected Outcomes," Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2002.


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