Back in 1992, Arkansas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that created term limits for the State Legislature. House members were subsequently restricted to just three 2-year terms and Senate members were restricted to just two 4-year terms.
In 2004, the Arkansas General Assembly submitted a constitutional amendment to voters which would have increased terms limits to twelve years in both the House and the Senate. Arkansas voters resoundingly rejected the proposal, voting 70% against it.
Believe what you will about term limits, but at least in both of those elections Arkansas voters had an up-or-down choice on the issue of term limits.
Flash forward to 2014.
State legislators got smart and figured out the best way to obliterate terms limits was to deceive Arkansas voters by hiding a term limit extension in a constitutional amendment dealing with ethics reform.
Read the Ballot Title from Issue 3 that was on voters’ ballots in 2014:
“An Amendment Regulating Contributions to Candidates for State or Local Office, Barring Gifts from Lobbyists to Certain State Officials, Providing for Setting Salaries of Certain State Officials, and Setting Term Limits for Members of the General Assembly.”
Notice at the very end of the ballot title it says “setting term limits” instead of “extending term limits,” which is what the amendment actually did. Pretty slick.
Legislators can now serve a grand total of 16 years in the State Legislature. Prior to last year’s Issue 3 passage, a House member could only serve six years, now they can stick around for 16 years. And Senators doubled the amount of time they could spend in that chamber.
On Thursday, a group called “Arkansas Term Limits” submitted a proposed constitutional amendment to the Attorney General’s office for official approval. If ultimately approved by voters in 2016, it would restore the original 1992 term limits amendment, but also restrict an individual to a grand total of ten years in the Arkansas General Assembly.
Ironically, while I actually oppose term limits, I support this new proposed constitutional amendment.
What I oppose more than term limits is politicians who attempt to deceive voters with misleading ballot titles, which is exactly what state legislators did with Issue 3. Don’t even get me started how legislators got themselves massive pay raises without facing any political consequences for it.
I support restoring term limits to the original incarnation, six years in the House or two 4-year terms in the Senate, and while I’m not wild about the 10-year total restriction, legislators have brought this rule on themselves.
I support restoring the more restrictive term limits on the principle that Arkansas voters made it clear on two occasions they wanted term limits set at a certain number of years, but their will was thwarted by politicians who wanted to spend more time struttin’ the marble halls of the State Capitol.
State legislators pulled a fast one on Arkansas voters over the issue of term limits with Issue 3, but voters might have an opportunity to even the score in 2016.