Term Limits: "Freshmen and Lame Ducks"

Do term limits create lame-duck lawmakers who are disengaged from governing?
by | July 29, 2010

I thought this was a good response to my item on Michigan term limits:

A few years ago Kansas City, Mo voted to change its charter to a 2 term limit for its city council. The effect was to vote a bunch of freshman and lame ducks. And it shows. Terms limits (at least of that short a limit) palpably damages governance. You are stuck with either freshman or lame ducks.

Most of my thinking on term limits has centered on the freshmen side of the equation. But, the lame ducks point is interesting. There could be a whole other set of effects of having lots of people who are leaving their current jobs and therefore (perhaps) disengaged from governing and focused more on their next position. You could make a case, I suppose, that the big effect of term limits in the Michigan Senate won't be next year (when lots of members will be new), but rather this year, when lots of members are headed out the door.

With regard to the freshmen, I do think it's worth noting that, at least intuitively, term limits would have a much more dramatic effect on governance for the City Council in Kansas City than they would for the Michigan Senate. For the Michigan Senate, there are nearly equivalently experienced people who can take the jobs: members of the Michigan House. There's nothing equivalent for a City Council, meaning you're more likely to get people with no government experience or no elected experience.

At least, that's my initial reaction. Thom Little of the State Legislative Leaders Foundation wrote me to offer a contrary view:

Don't forget that historically, upper and lower chambers are quite different.  What we have found in tl states where house members run for the  Senate "en masse" is the "housification" of the Senate.  The deliberative body becomes less deliberative and much more like the lower chamber.  This is not an insiginificant impact.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

More from Politics