Can gerrymandering group work grassroots magic again?

Maybe this time, the outcome will be different.

About 25 minutes after voters approved the nation’s most draconian term-limit law, the chatter started in town about changing the darn thing. The good-government types felt from day one that limiting the amount of time lawmakers were in office was not only bad for the lawmakers, but bad for the unsuspecting public that voted in large numbers to bring “new blood” into the legislative process.

The discussion started in 1992, and has happened off and on over the ensuing years, to no avail.

It seems that, every time a sitting lawmaker talks about changing it, two things happen. The national pro-term limit group came unglued and threatened to defeat any politicians who dared to even discuss the possibility of repealing or even changing the law. The second thing that happened was that the move stopped in its tracks.

Fast forward to last spring on Mackinac Island, where the GOP leader of the state Senate, a pretty conservative dude from Clarklake, said he would undertake an effort to extend the number of years someone could serve in the state House and state Senate. The limit is now 14 years, six in the House and eight in the Senate.

Mind you, the significance of that was that it was a leader speaking, and not some back-bench ordinary lawmaker. So the blurb got some attention, with the majority leader, state Sen. Mike Shirkey, telling everyone he was not ready to tackle it, yet, but would be in the future.

Well, apparently the future is now.

Recent reports reveal Mr. Shirkey and his sidekick in the state House, Speaker Lee Chatfield, have engaged with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which has flirted with the T.L. issue before, to see if they can work out the language to let the voters have a new shot at altering the law.

Oh. One other thing. The Voters Not Politicians coalition of 16,000 grassroots good-government types are also involved in the talks — which is why this effort, this time, could be a game-changer.

Recall that VNP shocked the political establishment by having the audacity to launch a petition drive to change the method for drawing voting district lines. “End Gerrymandering” was the battle cry, and it worked.

Do the math. If that same group gets behind a term-limit change, could they work their grassroots magic again?

Asked in July if her troops were passionate about doing so, CEO Nancy Wang answered in the affirmative.

But there are a host of twists and turns in all that before it becomes a reality.

First, there is the popular wisdom that a standalone change in term limits — say to 16 or 20 years — would go down faster than a Detroit Tiger at bat. Hence, there needs to be a “sweetener” to nudge reluctant voters to vote yes. Such as a change to lame-duck legislative sessions or putting a stick in the revolving door stop a person who is a lawmaker one day, leaves office the next, and shows up on the third day as a lobbyist.

VNP is also interested in financial disclosure laws for lawmakers. There are none today.

Currently, the quartet of leaders is kicking around what they should put into this proposal and finding consensus won’t be easy.

One strategy is to adopt all of those pro-citizen reforms to clean up government before the term-limit issue goes to the ballot. When it goes to voters to see if they say yes to that, then, and only then, would the reforms take effect.

All of that sounds encouraging, but another factor is, do current lawmakers grandfather themselves into more time in office?

Can you say, “self-serving”?

If they do, the opponents of a term-limit change will have a field day with that, thus raising the very real possibility that the ballot plan goes down in flames.

So the bottom line is, the effort is moving along with a goal of putting something on the November 2020 statewide ballot.

It’s a long shot, for sure, but those grassroots folks fooled everyone before.

Can they do it again?


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