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MichMash: New effort to change Michigan’s term limits for state lawmakers

As part of the weekly series MichMash. Jake Neher and Cheyna Roth talk with Gongwer’s Zach Gorchow about the initiative and why supporters think term limits have failed to deliver on their promises.  

Cheyna Roth: This is MichMash. A weekly conversation where we try to unjumble an important and sometimes under the radar statewide story that affects you. I'm Cheyna Roth.

Jake Neher: And I’m Jake Neher figuring out how long lawmakers should be allowed to stay in office has been a debate forever it seems like in Michigan. One we've talked about on this show several times.

Cheyna Roth: Michigan has had some of the most restrictive term limits in the nation. House members get three, 2-year terms and Senate members get two 4-year terms. But then, once you've exhausted both those chambers, you're out of there. Which in the years following the change has led many to say that's not enough time for our government to be effective.

Jake Neher: But now it looks like there's finally a serious attempt to change the state's term limits. Here to talk with us about what that's all about. What the proposal is, and why maybe there's a chance it might actually work is Zach Gorchow, executive editor and publisher of Gongwer and a friend of the show. Zach, welcome back to MichMash.

Zach Gorchow: Hey, great to be here Jake and Cheyna.

Cheyna Roth: Zach, walk us through what this new proposal is and why might it actually be different this time?

Zach Gorchow: So, it's a two-part proposal. I'm going to focus on the term limits piece. The idea is instead of a limit for the House and a limit for the Senate. You’d have a 12-year total limit on combined service. So, that means someone could get elected to the House and instead of only being able to serve three 2-year terms, they could serve six 2-year terms and spend all 12 years in the House. Or they can still say, spend eight in the House and four in the Senate or whatever combination thereof, or all 12 in the Senate.  So, the idea here is multifaceted, but it's mainly to allow members of the legislature, specifically the House really, to build some more experience. You'll hear House members say often, finally when they get to their 3rd term they're just starting to get good at the job. Right now. we have many instances where first term members are chairing committees. We've had speakers with only two or four years of experience, and it's just created this tumult, churn, and a number of problems really since term limits took effect all those years ago.

Jake Neher: So Zach, what is the process moving forward with this initiative? Specifically, what should people know as they're out and about and they see the circulating?

Zach Gorchow: Well, once the group that’s pursuing this, files the petition language with the Board of State Canvassers, which is going to be a few weeks away. They will start collecting signatures. They need about 425,000 valid signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot and they have to get them by July 11th. So, I would expect this appears to be a group with the resources to pay signature gatherers. They haven't said they're going to do that yet. But I would assume they will, I would expect we're going to see a lot of people out there with clipboards talking about, maybe term limits, but they're going to be talking a lot about financial disclosure. That's the other big piece of this. To require state elected officials to disclose information about their personal finances. Michigan is one of only a couple states with no real financial disclosure requirement for its legislature or state elected officials. And that I think, was put into this so it's not just a pure term limits reform. You're giving something out there that’s a little more populist.

Cheyna Roth: Zach it’s always amazing having on the show. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Zach Gorchow: It was great to be here. Thanks for having me.


Zach Gorchow is the executive editor and publisher of Gongwer news service. You can hear his full conversation with Cheyna Roth and Jake Neher on the MichMash podcast. Just search M-I-C-H-M-A-S-H wherever podcasts are available.