Sen. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) has proposed a ballot measure to make legislative terms of office 4 years, and to term limit office holders to two consecutive4 year terms, beginning in January 2017. Senate Concurrent Resolution 1009 (.pdf).
Kavanagh writes an op-ed in the Arizona Republic, Why Arizona lawmakers need longer terms, that does not do a very good job of expalining this idea.
First of all, there is no discussion of what other states do, so let’s start there.
For House members, only five states — Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi and North Dakota — have four year terms. Length of terms of state representatives – Ballotpedia. These states do not exactly have reputations as bastions of good government; quite the opposite.
For Senate members, Kavanagh is on more solid ground. Only 12 states, including Arizona, have two year terms for state senators. Length of terms of state senators – Ballotpedia:
Senators in 31 states have a four-year term. Senators in 12 states have a two-year term. Senators in seven states (Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and Texas) have terms that are sometimes two years and sometimes four years, depending on the proximity of the election to the legislative re-apportionments that occur every 10 years after a federal census. A system with senators who serve one two-year term and two four-year terms every ten years is considered a 2-4-4 term system.
I might support Kavanagh on state senators, on one condition: in addition to state senators, statewide elected offices — governor, secretary of state, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, and state mine inspector (the corporation commission already has staggered terms) — all stand for election in presidential election years. I am advocating for this measure to be on the ballot in 2016, so Kavanagh could save me a lot of time and effort here.
If Kavanagh’s goal is better representation, then Arizona should also consider increasing the number of House members using a per capita formula that brings our legislature in line with other states of comparable population. I posted about this back in 2011. Before redistricting, consider increasing the number of districts (old file, graphics corrupted).
For illustrative purposes only, the five states above that have four year terms for House members all have large House chambers in relation to their Senate chambers: Alabama (Senate 35, House 105), Louisiana (Senate 39, House 105), Maryland (Senate 47, House 141), Mississippi (Senate 52, House 122), and North Dakota (Senate 47, House 94).
The population of North Dakota was estimated in 2014 to be 739,482, compared to the population of Arizona estimated in 2014 to be 6,731,484. Maybe the problem we have is that we are severely under represented by state legislators who have far too many constituents to represent. Think about it.
Let’s turn to the reasons Kavanagh gives in support of his bill. Why Arizona lawmakers need longer terms:
The first unintended negative consequence is that two-year terms create a less-informed Legislature by increasing the number of inexperienced members serving.
This is due to the combined effects of the two-year terms and term limits. This has created a situation in which, on average at any given time, about 25 percent of legislators are new and inexperienced.
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And to make matters worse, when legislators lack experience and knowledge, they must rely more heavily on information and opinions provided by staff members, unelected bureaucrats and lobbyists in the employ of special interests — the latter of whom are especially keen to offer their advice.
None of these alternative information sources are a good substitute for a well-informed legislator. Experience and knowledge are vital, and short, two-year terms unnecessarily diminish the presence of experienced and knowledgeable legislators.
I fully concur with Kavanagh on these points. However, why does he double-down by term limiting state legislators to two consecutive 4 year year terms? This has precisely the opposite intended effect of addressing the problems Kavanagh identifies: lack of institutional memory and unduly empowering legislative staff and lobbyists.
The answer, rather, would be to refer an amendment to Prop. 107 (1992), the term limits measure, to the ballot. Keep the term limits for statewide elected offices, but repeal the term limits for state legislators.
Idaho repealed term limits in 2002, and Utah repealed term limits in 2003. Courts invalidated term limits in Massachusetts (1997), Washington (1998), Oregon (2002), and Wyoming (2004). Term limits was always a knee-jerk response to long-term incumbency that came with harmful unintended consequences. Just do away with this bad idea.
What else has Kavanagh got?
In addition, longer-serving members build more meaningful relationships with members of the opposite party. Increasing the number of “newbies,” consequently, also increases partisan fighting and bickering.
Another negative consequence of two-year terms is the increased empowerment of political donors, including so-called “dark money” players.
Going from two to four-year terms will cut the number of elections in half. While this will not result in a proportional 50 percent reduction in the influence of donors, it will significantly diminish their influence.
Sorry, I’m not buying this. Personal relationships between legislators are a matter of individual personalities. Stop being a dick. The influence of money on politics, in particular anonymous “dark money,” has no causal relationship to the length of a term of office. Legislators can receive money year round for victory fund PACs and other campaign financing vehicles. Changing the length of term of office will do nothing to reduce the corrupting influence of money in politics. That requires disclosure and transparency in campaign financing laws, something Kavanagh’s bill does not do.
Two-year terms also contribute to the proliferation of campaign signs and those annoying “robocalls.” Logically, half the number of legislative elections means half the presence of associated roadside signs and less home invasions by despised robocallers.
In addition, because four-year terms could align legislative elections with the higher voter turnout presidential and statewide elections, more people would vote in legislative races, which promotes democracy.
The statewide election in 2014 was the lowest voter turnout since 1998, and 1942 before then. If Kavanagh really wants to “align legislative elections with the higher voter turnout [in] presidential” election years, then adopt my proposed amendment to your bill that statewide elected offices — governor, secretary of state, attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, and state mine inspector — all stand for election in presidential election years. Then truly “more people would vote in legislative races, which promotes democracy.” You know I’m right.
Finally, going from two to four-year terms would save the state about $3 million per election by cutting the number of legislative elections in half.
We still have congressional elections every two years, a U.S. Senate race when it comes around, and corporation commission races every two years. Having the state legislature stand for election every two years does not save all that much money. It is not enough of a justification for four year terms as currently proposed by Kavanagh.