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Ballot 2015 Or 2016? Supporters Of Term Limits Extension Debate

Ohioans may be asked to vote on a measure to extend term limits of state lawmakers. 

The idea of extending term limits has its supporters, but there are still debates going on within that faction. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow explains.

The attempt to extend term limits for state lawmakers is in its early stages. A panel for the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission seems poised to move on one of two proposals—both would extend the maximum amount of time a state representative or senator could serve—from eight consecutive years to 12 consecutive years.

Former House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson—who now serves on the committee—was in office at the Statehouse when the voters approved the eight year term limits in the early 90’s. She says the trade-off is the loss of valuable knowledge.

“The first year that term limits actually too affect in Ohio - that first year when 40-some people left the Legislature you had close to 700 years of experience in the Legislature that left,” said Davidson.

One proposal before the committee would extend the term limits for lawmakers currently in the General Assembly. The other proposal on the table would only apply to newly-elected officials.

There seems to be a split among supporters on which proposal to go with: there are concerns that including current members would seem like lawmakers are looking out for their own best interest while—on the other hand—keeping them around would help the argument for gaining more of that institutional knowledge.

If a proposal comes out of the commission—it would then go to the General Assembly as a possible resolution. Then it could go before the voters.

That’s where the next debate comes into play. Some supporters believe the term limits question should go on this November’s ballot, while others would like to wait until 2016. 

The state’s already asking voters to approve changes to the way district maps are drawn for state lawmakers—that’s an issue this committee spent a lot of time on. Catherine Turcer for Common Cause Ohio—a big advocate for redistricting reform—would like to see term limits extended but fears it could drag down redistricting.

“Because a voter might say to themselves ‘ok here we have this redistricting measure that’s fairly complicated and then we have this thing extends the lengths of terms for legislators which could look a little self-serving’ which means the redistricting reform could be perceived as being in the best interest of the members of the General Assembly and not in the best interest of the voters,” said Turcer.

Rob Walgate of the American Policy Roundtable is strongly against changing term limits. And while his group has not taken a stance on redistricting reform—he’s certain it could take a hit if term limits are included on this November’s ballot.

“If this would go to the ballot Ohio voters would overwhelmingly voice their opinion once again that these limits that are in place in the constitution are good limits. I think the redistricting folks probably would not like to see this go to the ballot because they would be maybe tied together,” Walgate said.

Republican Senator Frank LaRose of the Akron area is another heavy hitter when it comes to reforming the mapmaking process. While he maintains that redistricting is his top priority—LaRose says he has faith in the voters.

“I believe that the voters of Ohio can walk and chew gum at the same time so I believe the voters will be able to differentiate between those and make different decisions about each one,” said LaRose.

LaRose adds that he does believe these two issues—term limits and redistricting—can be two sides of the same coin.

“The best term limit is a competitive election every two or four years and if we continue to improve our redistricting process as this issue on this November’s election and improve our redistricting process for congressional districts as well then I think we’ll be moving more towards those competitive elections,” LaRose said.

Fred Mills is chair of the committee that will vote on the proposals. He says he’d like to leave it up to the General Assembly to decide if voters should see the term limits issue on this year’s ballot or next year’s. 

“And I think there are people who’re much better at packaging amendments and packaging the message than I am somebody will have to figure that out,” Mills explained.

A committee vote on both proposals is expected next month and the full commission could make its decision in May.

Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.
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