Politics

Quittin' Time In Colorado

There's an employer in Colorado that is having serious problems retaining its workers: the state legislature. Five legislators have left office this year alone, including...
by | July 31, 2009
 

There's an employer in Colorado that is having serious problems retaining its workers: the state legislature.

Five legislators have left office this year alone, including the Senate president, Peter Groff, who departed for a job in the Obama administration. Some 20 of the legislature's 100 members first took their seats when their predecessors left before their terms were up.

What's so terrible about the Colorado legislature that is causing everyone to decamp? Well, nothing really. But the state does have two election rules that create strong incentives for politicians to leave early.

The first is that Colorado is one of 24 states that does not hold a special election when a legislative seat opens up. Instead, a local party committee picks a replacement. That allows legislators to leave without costing their party a seat.

The other is term limits. Colorado legislators are allowed only eight consecutive years in either chamber. Since the lawmakers know the date they will lose their jobs, they start looking for new employment early.

If term limits are causing legislators to cycle through the statehouse faster than the rules mandate, does that mean citizen legislators are running the show, as term limits supporters hoped?

Not really. Party committees tend to appoint political insiders, and they tend to go on to win reelection. "If term limits were designed to get your uninitiated next-door neighbor down there," says John Straayer, a Colorado State University political scientist, "that has not happened."

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

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