Court case may be hail Mary term limit opponents want

It wasn’t long after Michigan voters in 1992 said yes to term limits for state lawmakers that official Lansing said no and there was an almost immediate discussion about undoing what the voters just did.

That was 27 years ago, and the undoing is still not done.

Term Limits will remain unless you have faith that the federal courts will do what anti-term-limit folks have been unable to do and toss the law out as unconstitutional.

Eight former lawmakers, with the secret help of major donors behind the scenes, have filed such a federal lawsuit, telling the court their right to run for office has been denied.

Former Republican state senator Roger Kahn, one of the complainers, feels he is being treated “like a felon” because he can’t run again. He and the others base their legal challenge on the notion that experience in the legislative process is being abridged by the law and, as a result, getting the citizens work done is being hampered, if not scuttled in some cases.

In most walks of life, the more you do something, the better at it you are, but 59% of the voters had a chance to embrace that concept in the Legislature but obviously rejected it in favor of new blood.

Plus, they believe efforts to change the law is “self-serving” for the aggrieved former salons.

“We have new blood coming into the system,” admits lead attorney John Bursch, “but it’s inexperienced new blood” and, as a result, the lobbyists, elected by no one, have more power than the lawmakers who are elected by the people. He called them “hired guns.”

And you can see all the head nodding around here, suggesting he is spot on.

But tell that to the 69% of voters who recently declared, “keep you mud hooks off of our term limits.”

Which is why the good government coalition is in the courts and not in the field with a petition drive to change term limits.

If it somehow got to a statewide vote, barrister Bursch concludes, “it would fail.”

Asked if the court case is really a way to circumvent the voters, he and others disagreed. Their noses at the news conference did not immediately start to grow, but if they stick with that answer, they eventually will.

Here’s the harsh reality: If you want to change term limits and you can’t do it by getting lawmakers to put it on the ballot, and if you do a ballot proposal which is doomed to fail, the only reasonable alternative is to find some judge who agrees the law should be tossed or modified.

Hence the lawsuit.

It’s not the first time anti-termers tried that route. In a previous legal foray, it was the voters who petitioned the court, saying their right to pick their elected officials was blocked by term limits, but the courts were not impressed.

So you have to wonder: If judges said no to voters, why would they say yes to former lawmakers?

The one ace in the hole this suit may provide is for an out-of-court settlement.

The coalition is suing the secretary of state and, the theory, goes if Secretary Jocelyn Benson sits down with the former legislators, maybe they work a deal to revise the term limit law by adding on years or whatever, and then a judge could rule on that agreement and not have to toss the whole law out.

Insiders think that may be the end game that Mr. Bursch and company have in mind, and they are using the lawsuit to get there.

Since it appears nothing else will work, that could be the Hail Mary the anti-term-limit crowd has been praying for.


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