I retired from the State House as a result of my promise to self term-limit. I have pretty strong feelings on the subject matter that I may explore at greater length here one day but for now just know I think they are a very good thing. Today, we focus on a potentially historic moment: A term limits resolution just passed out of the Senate Government Oversight Committee on a party line, 7-3 vote. Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller voted in favor which is signaling support for the measure from Senate Leadership.
I chatted with the resolution’s sponsor this morning, Senator Greg Dolezal (R) of Alpharetta, to get a sense of where the bill came from, where it stands, and where it might go.
SR 37 is a State Constitutional Amendment, which means it ultimately would be on the ballot to be approved by the voters of our state. It proposes to change the following features of terms of office for out state legislators:
• the term length for State Senators go from two to four years
• House Members would be limited to six consecutive terms (emphasis added, we’ll get to this in a second).
• Senators would be limited to three consecutive terms.
• Clarifies that service in one chamber does not count against service in the other.
• Reestablishes eligibility for legislators who sit out one year.
• Creates a two consecutive term limit on the office of Lieutenant Governor.
First, some people get confused on the word consecutive, so let’s address that first. Under SR 37, a person would not be permanently ineligible from holding office, but would have to sit out at least a year once they served a number of terms in a row without a break. Under this proposal, I would have had two more terms, for a total of 12 years, before I would have had to step aside. I could then run again if I wanted to after taking a break, but I would then be challenging an incumbent.
Senator Dolezal mentioned to me that there is strong partisan divide in the Senate, with Democrats taking to the well of the Senate to lament the concept of term limits. Dolezal claims that polling shows 75% support for term limits among Democrats and the support gets close to 85% among Republicans. “There is isn’t really a partisan divide,” he said, “there is a divide between career politicians and the American People… It’s clear that they (democrats voting against the resolution) don’t want a term limit to end their time here.”
While I was in the House, I often heard criticism that institutional knowledge is so valuable that we must never allow term limits. The idea is that only people who have been there for many years know how things work. This criticism is a pile of bovine excrement and Senator Dolezal pointed to a cogent example to refute the claim. During the last term, long time Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill passed away. His committee arguably takes up the most complex issue faced by any General Assembly: the state budget. Senator Blake Tillery stepped into the role and was able to deliver a balanced budget after only one and half terms under his belt. Now Blake Tillery is a smart and capable person, so I am sure that played a role in his ability to get the job done, but his results show it can in fact be done.
Because it is a state constitutional amendment, it will require votes in favor from 2/3rds of each chamber and then be placed on the ballot to be approved or voted down by Georgians. So it is still a long way from being placed on the ballot. But Senator Dolezal is just asking for a chance to let Georgians have that vote, and pointed out that those who are opposing it are not just voting against term limits, they are voting to deny Georgians the ability to vote on it.
But I would like to take a moment to celebrate Senator Dolezal’s accomplishment: he is the first Senator to get a term limits bill out of a committee in modern memory. Well done, sir!