Will successful fighters fight term limits?

From the folks who brought you a major change in how to draw voting district lines, now comes a possible effort to take a whack at Michigan’s term limit law approved by 60% of the voters in 1992.

Oh, boy, this could be fun.

To be sure, the Voters Not Politicians grassrooters have not made that decision, but it’s a definite maybe they might.

“People are understanding and make the connection between a dysfunctional state government and the really, really restrictive term limits that we have.”

That’s the executive director of VNP speaking, and it’s Nancy Wang who is hearing that as her gaggle of 6,000 or so volunteers sound off around the state on what their next effort should be after they bird-dog and make sure their redistricting amendment is adequately implemented next year.

Recall that VNP amazed the know-it-alls in this town who snickered under their breath that this bunch of average Joe and Josephine citizens didn’t know what they were biting off by launching a petition drive to undo the gerrymandering that’s been infecting this state for half a century. The critics conceded it was a noble effort, but, without a bankroll from special interests to pay for the petition signatures, without some wheel-heeled political consultants guiding their every move, the drive was doomed to failure.


The concerned citizens, taking matters into their own clipboards, inundated farmers markets, shopping malls, county fairs, and wherever two or more were gathered in the name of good government. Eventually, they proved the experts didn’t know squat as they collected 428,000 signatures without paying one thin dime to obtain those names from their friends and neighbors.

So the mere notion that those same crusaders might take on the powerful, conservative forces that support Michigan’s most draconian term limit law in the land, is reason enough for the know-it-alls not to dismiss them out of hand again.

But VNP is not there, yet.

There are other issues. Ms.Wang reports “the volunteers have brought it up (term limits), but they are also hacked off with lame duck legislative sessions.”

The most notorious of those happened last December with over 400 bills were adopted after the election, which meant many lawmakers who were not coming back could vote on this or that without fear of repudiation back home from voters who had no control over those legislators.

She indicates her colleagues are also focusing on Michigan’s dead-last-in-the-nation aversion to government transparency and ethics.

So it’s simply too early to tell where all this “let’s-improve-our-democracy” energy will land.

“I don’t know,” Wang says of whether the term-limit petition drive will emerge.

First, Ms. Wang will reach out to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Farm Bureau, the Business Leaders of Michigan, and a host of other possible “partners” in a potential effort to put the question before the voters.

But nobody knows what the question is, yet, because the effort has not advanced beyond the “what-if” stage.

For sure, Ms. Wang will soon huddle with Senate GOP Leader Mike Shirkey, who, out of the blue last month, announced that, once he is out of office, he would lead an effort to get rid of term limits. He has seen the impact term limits has had on the legislative process from a front-row seat.

You need look no further than the Michigan House and GOP Speaker Lee Chatfield, who became speaker after two — count’em — two years in the Legislature. In pre-term-limit times, nobody in the house would even consider a bid for the top leadership post until after 10 or 15 years in the trenches.

That is not to degrade Mr. Chatfield, who has demonstrated a command of what it means to be leader far beyond his 32 years of age, but even he would likely confess that, if he had 10 years under his belt, he’d probably be better at it than he is today. They call it experience, which is, of course, what term limits eviscerate by the very nature of kicking lawmakers out of office before they might want to go.

“We are seriously looking at it,” Wang said. “I wouldn’t call it a term limit petition drive at this point.”

But the key to that effort, if they go forth, will once again depend on the passion of the 6,000 volunteers to dive into the thing and never look back. That’s how they fooled the snickerers by turning passion into signatures and eventually finding 2.5 million voters to vote yes on their plan.

So Ms. Wang, do you feel that same fire in the belly from the grassroots folks on term limits?

“Yes I do.”

Oh, boy, this could be fun.


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