By Kyle Davidson, Michigan Advance
On Nov. 8, Michigan voters could make some big changes to how the Legislature functions with a constitutional amendment altering term limits and introducing rules for financial disclosures for some elected officials.
Proposal 1, placed on the ballot by the Legislature in May, would modify term limits for Michigan’s Legislature to allow legislators to serve a combined 12 years in both the House and Senate.
The current standard, which voters approved in 1992, limits legislators to three terms in the House, which totals six years, and two terms in the Senate, which totals eight years. In total, legislators can serve for 14 years.
Supporters of the proposal argue the changes to term limits would allow politicians more time to find their footing when navigating the policy process.
For many members of the House, it takes up to four years for them to understand and craft policy. But under the current term limits, that means they’re forced out just as they begin to find their sea legs, said Jason Roe, campaign manager for Voters for Transparency and Term Limits, the group spearheading the constitutional amendment.
“Not everybody’s going to come into the Legislature understanding health care policy or insurance policy, and there’s a lot of complexities. … Having people that are a little bit better informed I think benefits everybody,” Roe said.
The current system also encourages inexperienced officials to rely on lobbyists, staffers and bureaucrats who have greater knowledge on how to navigate political institutions, Roe said.
Here’s the Proposal 1 language voters will see on the ballot:
A proposal to amend the state constitution to require annual public financial disclosure reports by legislators and other state officers and change state legislator term limit to 12 total years in legislature
This proposed constitutional amendment would:
- Require members of legislature, governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and attorney general file annual public financial disclosure reports after 2023, including assets, liabilities, income sources, future employment agreements, gifts, travel reimbursements, and positions held in organizations except religious, social, and political organizations.
- Require legislature implement but not limit or restrict reporting requirements.
- Replace current term limits for state representatives and state senators with a 12-year total limit in any combination between house and senate, except a person elected to senate in 2022 may be elected the number of times allowed when that person became a candidate.”
Opponents say approving this proposal would benefit career politicians and reward politicians from strongly Republican or Democratic districts.
“Term limits is a structural reform that says whatever your policy views are, the longer you’re there, the worse it is,” said Kurt O’Keefe, executive director of No More Time For Career Politicians.
O’Keefe also said this proposal benefits lobbyists by allowing them to maintain longer relationships with legislators.
“If you’re a lobbyist, and you’ve invested in a ‘relationship’ with somebody, you don’t want it rolled over every six or eight years,” O’Keefe said.
The proposal would also allow politicians who were ineligible to run for specific to run again, O’Keefe said. Supporters argue many politicians who would benefit from this change are already eligible to seek reelection.
Patrick Anderson is an East Lansing economic analyst who helped author the 1992 term limits policy.
“The No. 1 reason why citizens oppose Proposal 1 is that it’s an effort by the Legislature to overturn the term limits that were adopted by the citizens themselves,” Anderson said.
If voters approve the proposal next month, it would also require the Legislature to pass a law requiring the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and each member of the Legislature to file an annual financial disclosure report. The Legislature would have until Dec. 31, 2023, to pass the new law based on requirements outlined in the proposal. If a law is not passed, citizens can take legal action against the governor and the Legislature to enforce this requirement.
According to a nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan analysis of the proposal, Michigan is one of two states without financial disclosure requirements for elected officials.
If Proposal 1 passes, officials would have to disclose the following information:
- Description of assets and sources of unearned income.
- Sources of earned income.
- Description of liabilities.
- Positions currently held as an officer, director, trustee, partner, proprietor, representative, employee, or consultant of any organization, corporation, firm, partnership, or other business enterprise, nonprofit organization, labor organization, or educational or other institution other than the state of Michigan. This does not include positions held in any religious, social, fraternal, or political entity, or positions that are purely honorary.
- Agreements or arrangements for future employment, a leave of absence while serving as a legislator or state officer, continuation or deferral of payments by a former or current employer other than the state of Michigan, or continuing participation in an employee welfare or benefit plan maintained by a former employer.
- Gifts received and required to be reported by a lobbyist or lobbyist agent, as prescribed by state law.
- Travel payments and reimbursements received and required to be reported by a lobbyist or lobbyist agent, as prescribed by state law.
- Payments made by a lobbyist or lobbyist agent to a charity in lieu of payment.
The proposal has received bipartisan support, including endorsement from organizations including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Voters not Politicians, the League of Women Voters of Michigan, the Michigan Education Association, and a number of other labor and business groups. The proposal also has support from former Govs. John Engler and James Blanchard, said Joshua Pugh, a spokesperson for Voters for Transparency and Term Limits.
Proposal challengers filed to keep it off the ballot, arguing the amendment contained multiple purposes and subjects. The Michigan Supreme Court rejected that argument.
O’Keefe said the proposal summary on the ballot is deceptive, as it does not mention the requirement for the Legislature to pass the law on financial disclosure.
While the proposal does allow citizens to take legal action if a law is not passed, the courts cannot force the Legislature to pass a law, O’Keefe said.
“I want full disclosure now. I don’t want smoke and mirrors that maybe they’ll do something later,” O’Keefe said.
Anderson said the disclosure provision would not require politicians to disclose dollar amounts of income, only sources and would shield politicians from sharing their position on lobbying organizations they’re involved with.
“If Proposal 1 passes, we would have no disclosure law in 2023. Not at all. And in 2024, we might have one and it might allow a legislator or an elected official to simply write, ‘I work hard for my constituents’ as a description of their income,” Anderson said.
Pugh said the amendment is intended to act as a floor for disclosure policy, and that including the specifics of disclosure in the Constitution doesn’t make sense. While efforts to require disclosure are often introduced to the Legislature, there’s never any meaningful action, Pugh said.
O’Keefe and Anderson also criticized the transparency of the Legislature’s actions before voting to send the proposal to the ballot.
“In this case, the Legislature met with no notice to the citizens and no debate and put on the ballot a proposal that would allow most of them to spend twice as long in the same office,” Anderson said.
Because the Legislature voted to approve the constitutional amendment for the ballot, the committee didn’t have to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures to place the issue before voters — an expensive and time-consuming process. This also allowed lawmakers to weaken some of the proposal’s requirements.
Michigan has three constitutional amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot. In contrast to Voters for Transparency and Term Limits, the other two committees did have to collect signatures before their proposals got on the ballot.
The other two measures are Promote the Vote (Proposal 2) that aims to expand voting rights and Reproductive Freedom for All (Proposal 3) that aims to enshrine abortion rights in the Michigan Constitution.
While Anderson said he understands the skepticism around the wording of all three potential constitutional amendments, he and members of No More Time For Career Politicians are only focused on opposing Proposal 1.
There have been efforts from grassroots Republican organizations to launch a “vote no” effort on all constitutional amendments.
One video posted by the Hillsdale County Republican Party earlier this month encouraged supporters to vote no on all three proposals, saying, “Thou Shalt Not Steal, Vote Conservative, Vote No on All Proposals, Vote No on All Millages, November 8th.”
Leadership of the GOP in Hillsdale has been contested since August, with two groups claiming to be the official Hillsdale County Republican Party.
Roe said that while Proposals 2 and 3 have faced opposition from formal Republican organizations, efforts to generate formal Republican opposition to Proposal 1 have generally not been successful.
“I don’t think that it’s driven by a hostility to Prop 1. I think it’s being driven by the ease of wrapping [Proposals] 1, 2 and 3 and just telling certain voters to vote no on all of them because they’re terrible,” Roe said.