by Caleb Talley
As we move another week closer to Election Day, it’s time to examine yet another column-worthy ballot measure. For those who are following along, I apologize for making the both of you wait for my next issue. As it turns out, putting magazines together can be a bit taxing.
But fear not, I’m here, serving up fresh takes on one of the more popular ballot measures up for a vote this year. Issue 3, the term limit measure.
Before we get going, I should point out that votes for the Issue 3 might not even be voted. A week ago, a special master appointed to review facts in a case to remove the amendment from the ballot said nearly 15,000 of the almost 94,000 signatures submitted by Arkansas for Term Limits campaign were invalid.
As is always the case, it will head to the Arkansas Supreme Court for determination.
But I’m not going to let that stop me from taking a closer look.
It’s a bit misleading to refer to the ballot question as one for term limits. That’s because we already have term limits – just not as strict as some would like.
First, let’s look at what the measure says and what, if approved, it would do…
Issue 3 would impose term limits of six years for members of the Arkansas House of Representatives and eight years for members of the Arkansas Senate. The measure would allow representatives to be elected to no more than three two-year terms. Senators could be elected to no more than two four-year terms.
No member of the Arkansas General Assembly would be able to serve more than 10 years. That includes time served due to a special election to fill a vacancy. If a partial term was served due to a special election, only full years would be counted.
According to the proposal, the 10-year term limit would apply to members of the general assembly serving on and after Jan. 1, 1993. Years served after January 1993 would count towards the 10-year limit. The measure wouldn’t cut short the term of any lawmaker elected before the amendment takes effect.
The amendment would prohibit Arkansas lawmakers from amending or repealing the term limits. The only way it could be amended or repealed, if passed, would be by a vote of the people.
Presently, Arkansas state senators and representatives are limited to 16 years.
As mentioned previously, the measure made its way to the November ballot (maybe) after canvassers, both paid and unpaid, collected no more than 93,998 signatures of registered voters. The proposal needed 84,859 to qualify. But, nearly 15,000 of those signatures are in questions because signature gatherers are believed not to have proper background checks and paperwork.
Issue 3 is supported by the Family Council Action Committee, Arkansas Term Limits 2 and U.S. Term limits. According to Arkansas Ethics Commission filings, the Family Council has raised $770 and spent $691.91 in their support of the measure.
Arkansas Term Limits 2, according to the last financial report filed in July, has raised $8,200 and spent $8,604 in their support of Issue 3. The committee has already received more than $421,000 worth of nonmonetary contributions from U.S. Term Limits, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization. Much of the money raised by Arkansas Term Limits 2 have come from small, individual donations – $250 here, $250 there. Much of what they’ve spent has gone towards voter outreach at various events across the state – booths at Heber Spring’s Springfest, Wynne’s Farm Fest, Searcy’s Gun Show, etc.
U.S. Term Limits raised and spent $54,328.60 in support of Issue 3, according to a filing from Florida that was notarized in Philadelphia. All of the money raised came directly from their own general fun. And the money spent went to National Ballot Access in Georgia for petitioning.
Arkansans for Common Sense Term Limits, led by Arkansas Chamber of Commerce head Randy Zook, was the only committee registered to oppose the measure. To date, the committee has not reported raising or spending any money.
In early September, Hendrix College released a poll of 1,701 likely Arkansas voters that showed 67 percent of support for Issue 3. Only 18 percent of those polled expressed opposition; 15 percent said they didn’t know.
It’s easy to see why voters have lined up behind the measure. It seems like there’s a different lawmaker is charged with a crime each week. There’s a lot of work to be done concerning restoring trust.
And according to the Arkansas Term Limits website, the state has “the weakest term limits in the nation.” That’s an interesting (disingenuous) observation to make, given that only 15 states in the entire nation even have term limits. Yes, the leash is 16 years. But in nine of those 15 states, there’s no lifetime limit, which means lawmakers can serve eight years in both chambers. Breaking news: 8+8=16. Four of the remaining five are set at 12 years. And, as deductive reasoning would have it, 35 states have none.
The argument has and will continue to be made that shorter term limits weaken the legislature and shift power to special interest lobbyists who won’t have to contend with experienced lawmakers. Believe it or not, lack of experience does not make for good government. More rigid term limits also result in higher expenditures, as it takes more resources to conduct more detailed orientations.
In reality, we have term limits every two or four years. They’re called elections. If everyone rallying around Issue 3 got out and voted against the lawmakers they believed were corrupt and dishonest, there wouldn’t even be a need for term limits. Instead, roughly 300,000 Arkansans sit at home during midterm elections, only to gripe and moan later about the depravity of their democratically elected leaders.
If Issue 3 does survive the Supreme Court, Arkansans will almost certainly approve it against their own best interests because term limiting a lousy politician is easier than campaigning against him. There are intelligent, trustworthy and experienced lawmakers. And we’ll be kicking them out, too.
In Cash & Candor, Arkansas Money & Politics / AY Magazine Editor Caleb Talley aims to shoot it straight when it comes to business and politics in and around the Natural State. Talley comes to AMP by way of the Arkansas Delta, where he called balls and strikes at the Forrest City Times-Herald. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com. Read more Cash & Candor here.