There are four people running for the Republican primary in this race. The others are politicians. They all either worked for the government or been long involved in politics.
Threading this theme through his campaign, Lee wants to reform state government by imposing terms limits on state legislators although it’s not clear whether he wants to impose consecutive or lifetime term limits.
Opponents of term limits consider the governor term-limited in Article III, Section 4 of the Tennessee Constitution which limits the Governor to serving two consecutive four year terms.
Article II, Section 3 of the state’s Constitution limits House members to two year terms and Senators to four year terms. While state legislators are not limited to either consecutive or lifetime terms, they are forced, at regular intervals to re-run for their office if they want to continue to serve. Opponents of term limits consider the voting booth to be the most definitive statement on the matter.
Six states have repealed their term limit restrictions – Idaho, Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, while fifteen states still impose term limits for state legislators – Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.
Term-limiting initiatives, however, have not all survived challenges in court. In 1998, the Washington State Supreme Court held as unconstitutional, an initiative approved by 52% of the voting public to impose term limits on state legislators. The court held that because the state constitution set forth specific qualifications for constitutional offices, adding qualifications such as term limits, could not be achieved by either a public referendum or a state statute:
In determining whether term limits constitute impermissible qualifications beyond those expressed in our state Constitution, it is important to revisit fundamental principles regarding qualifications for state constitutional offices. Our cases have expressed a strong presumption in favor of eligibility for office. In State v. Schragg, 158 Wash. 74, 78, 291 P. 321 (1930), we stated:
Since the right to participate in the government is the common right of all, it is the unqualified right of any eligible person within the state to aspire to any of these offices, and equally the unqualified right of the people of the state to choose from among those aspiring the persons who shall hold such offices. It must follow from these considerations that eligibility to an office in the state is to be presumed rather than to be denied, and must further follow that any doubt as to the eligibility of any person to hold an office must be resolved against the doubt.
Courts in three other states where the state legislature’s action setting term limits was repealed by the court, held that term limits constituted a qualification for office, and any change in this regard would require amending the state’s constitution.
Proponents of terms limits use the same justification offered by Lee – new people bring fresh ideas as well as increasing gender and ethnic diversity in forcing turnover. Term limiters also profess that legislators knowing that they have a specified amount of time to address the state’s business will make better public policy decisions as opposed to decisions that may help win the next election.
LumenLearning course material on “American Government,” summarized the work of two political scientists who evaluated the pros and cons of term limits published as Term Limits and Their Consequences: The Aftermath of Legislative Reform:
Although proponents argued that term limits would increase legislative diversity, research comparing the rate of female and minority representation in term-limited and non-term-limited states does not bear out this expectation. There is no statistically significant difference in diversity between the two groups of states. Although term limits may have produced more open seats, additional barriers to holding office can still exist and affect the willingness of women and minorities to run for office. In addition, women and minorities are subject to the same term limits as men, and given their low numbers among candidates for office, on balance a legislature can lose more women or minorities than it gains.
Another study cited by the course material concludes that, “[re]search demonstrates that, post-term limits, legislators became more likely to consult with lobbyists to gain information about legislation under consideration than had been the case before term limits.”
Last week former gubernatorial candidate Mae Beavers and long-term public servant who was elected repeatedly to the Tennessee legislature from 2003 – 2017 and is now running for mayor of Wilson County, endorsed Bill Lee.