Michigan Senate: The Term Limits Twist

In the 38-member Michigan Senate, at least 29 of the members will be freshmen in January as a result of term limits. What are the implications of that? Perhaps less than you might expect.
by | July 23, 2010
 

As I've mentioned before, what term limits is doing to the Michigan Senate this year is pretty absurd. In the 38-member Senate, at least 29 of the members will be freshmen.  As a result, come January 2011 the Michigan Senate is about to become a case study in how term limits saps legislatures of institutional memory and empowers lobbyists and bureaucrats to manipulate the gullible novices. Right?

As Liz Lemon would say: Twist!

The Detroit Free Press reported something remarkable:

Some of the 29 open seats, however, almost surely will be filled by candidates who have served in the House of Representatives. Every open seat has at least one current or former state representative running for it.

So, even in what will be the state legislative body most dramatically altered by term limits in a single election in recent memory (perhaps ever?), it's possible that every single member will have prior legislative experience. As a result, the Michigan Senate may end up as a case study into how term limits neither live up to the promises of their supporters nor the fears of their opponents. The Michigan Senate likely won't enjoy the benefits -- real or imagined -- of being run by citizen legislators because most of its members will end up being career politicians who aren't that different from the career politicians who were just booted out. The Senate won't suffer the consequences -- real or imagined -- of being run by novices because its members won't be novices.

I don't mean to suggest that all of the consequences of term limits have been overblown. Term limits have altered the electoral landscape in Michigan, creating open seat opportunities that wouldn't otherwise have existed. It's likely that the new Michigan lawmakers will feel extra pressure to produce some distinctive signature achievements quickly -- signature achievements that may well be incongruent with the state's long-term needs -- knowing that their time in office is limited.

Furthermore, the transition from House to Senate probably is a lot more appealing to most lawmakers than the transition from Senate to House. If it were the Michigan House where two-thirds of the lawmakers were term-limited, you might, for better or worse, really have a lot of citizen lawmakers coming into office. Of course, it's also possible that we'd just have a lot of legislative staffers and well-connected local elected officials as the new representatives.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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