A media event was held at the Statehouse last week by U.S. Term Limits, an organization that takes credit for leading the charge in 1992 to enact the current eight-year term limits on elected officials in Ohio. Reporters were told that a ballot issue committee is being formed to oppose easing these limits. In early May the group initiated a series of informative mailers to constituents of potential term limits foes in the General Assembly.
Holding their event in the George Washington Williams Room at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, speakers included Philip Blumel, President, U.S. Term Limits, Maurice Thompson, Executive Director, 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, Ray Warrick, Chairman, Warren County Republican Party and current and former state representatives, including John Adams, Ron Hood, Matt Lynch and Tom Brinkman, who was represented by a staff member.
On May 14, Blumel said the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission [OCMC] will be finalizing its recommendation of whether Ohio should lift or ease current limits on elected terms.
Mr. Thompson of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law maintains that these limits should be tightened rather than loosened. An attorney who takes on status quo powers on a wide range of issues, Thompson told reporters that a counterveiling ballot issue could be preemtive, simulatneous to or following any action the legislature may take with respect to what the CMC may recommend as amendments to the Ohio Constitution, which voters statewide would vote on.
The 1992 Constitutional Amendments limited state senators to two successive terms of four years, state representatives to four successive terms of two years, and the state auditor, treasurer, attorney general, secretary of state, and Lt. Governor to two successive terms of four years.
“USTL will inform the term limits supporters we know across Ohio about the Constitutional Modernization Commission’s deception and will continue to monitor the situation,” Austin Sekel, Communications Director for U.S. Term Limits said in an email. “Eight is Enough Ohio is going to fire up the grassroots and make sure legislators get the message.”
Writing in the Dayton Daily News at the same time, Seth Morgan, a former Ohio House Member, said the notion of a “citizen legislator” is appropriate, but in the age of a growing industry called politics, regular residents feel less and less connected with their elected leadership. Morgan notes that in 1992, 68 percent of Ohio voters approved an amendment to the Ohio Constitution to limit legislative and executive branch terms. “Now, a commission in Columbus is threatening to upend that,” Morgan lamented, observing that the CMC is composed of either sitting legislators or otherwise Columbus “insiders” who will be making a recommendation to the Ohio Legislature, which could put the matter before voters as soon as this fall.
In early April, a committee of the OCMC referred its first proposal and is recommending to lengthen the term limits from eight to 12 years. “Eight years is, by a wide margin, the most common and effective term limit in the United States,” Mr. Morgan says, adding that from city councils to governors and even the president, “citizens have drawn a clear line that ‘eight is enough.’” Twelve years, he says, is the limit most often chosen by legislators in attempts to block genuine efforts to reform incumbency.
For a sitting House Member like Ron Hood, a Republican from Ashville, breaking the pin-ball syndrome of bouncing from one chamber of the General Assembly to another is one of three changes he recommends. Rep. Hood’s two other changes focus on the legislative appointment process for filling vacancies, which party leaders now control, and changing caucus fundraising structures. Through the power of political parties to define district boundaries, incumbent officeholders are nearly guaranteed a win.
A common concern is that legislators are able to pick their voters instead of voters picking who represents them. For the world’s greatest democracy, as America claims itself to be, that’s a sad situation. With such a large percentage of voters approving the current limits, it’s clear that limiting legislators to current terms has broad appeal with the public.
Session Length, Lawmaker Pay
Rep. Ron Hood was asked whether, in addition to keeping lawmaker limits as they are, legislative sessions should likewise be limited? Currently, being a lawmaker is a full-time profession for many, so it’s no surprise that Ohio has one of the longest legislative sessions, along with Wisconsin, among the 50 states. Rep. Hood smiled but didn’t answer the question, preferring instead to repeat his recommendations for change.
Asked whether pay for lawmakers should be determined by market forces, as some legislators believe applies to other paydays, there was little discussion. The General Assembly has the authority to determine compensation for public employees, and it has passed laws that give them benefits and perks not available to others.
The notion that term limits deny legislators with “institutional knowledge,” by virtue of their time in Columbus, from serving as long as voters keep electing them seems on its surface a solid argument. For Members who want to be year-round professional lawmakers, its a natural argument. After all, who wouldn’t want an above-the-median salary as their minimum wage, free office space in the Statehouse, money to hire staff, lobbyists with money in hand reading horse trade, special privileges and perks and, maybe best of all, tax payers footing health care and retirement packages.
For those who serve long enough, shortcuts exist that are laden with financial goodies not available to Orville and Olive Ohio, because they don’t get to vote in the Senate or House. In light of the dismal turnout of voters last fall, the lowest since World War II [36.2%], and another depressing turnout for the May 5 election, a lack of motivation is clear and troubling.
There are many officials in Columbus who, as a consequence, have held office for decades. “I had an opportunity to observe firsthand the habits and cadence of the General Assembly,” Morgan said. “Let me submit to you that providing more time by lengthening term limits does not increase the likelihood of getting anything done. On the contrary it often creates more excuses to not get something done.” Mr. Morgan called on Gov. Kasich, a former State Senator who went on to serve nine terms in Congress, to ask Ohio Senate President Keith Faber and House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger to support the current eight-year term limit restrictions.
“Term limits are a practical, people-of-Ohio imposed restraint that all of us in our communities can agree with,” he said. “Ohio’s legislative leaders should focus on solving problems — one of which is not term limits.”