The Michigan Senate's Term Limits Madness

What are the real effects of term limits? Come January, the Michigan Senate will be the place to find out.
by | June 14, 2010

Stateline has a piece on what I already know will be my favorite story of January 2011: The amazing term-limited induced turnover in the Michigan Senate. Here's how it begins:

Gretchen Whitmer was elected to the Michigan Senate just four years ago, but when the next legislative session begins in January, there's a good chance she will be the chamber's longest-serving member — the "dean of the Senate," she says, at age 39.

Whitmer's remarkable rise can be traced to Michigan's strict term limits, which allow senators only two four-year terms and are forcing out most of her colleagues this year. Twenty-nine of the Senate's 38 members are barred from running for reelection, and those who do return next year will have even less Senate experience than Whitmer, who took office after winning a special election in March 2006.

Ever since their rise in state legislatures, term limits have faced a lot of criticism for their unintended consequences. Less experienced legislators, it's often said, are more dependent on bureaucrats and lobbyists. Then don't tend to think long-term when they know that their own terms in office are limited.

However, there's another criticism that's at least somewhat at odds with the ones I just mentioned: Term limits end up being ineffective. The goal is to have more citizen lawmakers, but in truth the same group of politicians end up hopping from one office to the next. The new legislators aren't getting snookered by lobbyists or bureaucrats because they aren't really new.

Come January, Michigan will be a great place to see which view of term limits has the most truth.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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