Gubernatorial Candidate Bill Lee Wants Term Limits For State Legislators

Bill Lee

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee a relative newcomer and self-described “outsider” to Tennessee state politics, is trying to use this status to distinguish himself from the other candidates:

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Six states have repealed their term limit restrictions – Idaho, Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, while fifteen states still impose term limits for state legislators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.








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10 Thoughts to “Gubernatorial Candidate Bill Lee Wants Term Limits For State Legislators”

  1. Aviara Global

    Mr. Lee seems like a nice man, and I’m glad that he’s strong in his faith. (At least according to his TV ads). However, he’s a long way from being Governor, and a silly call for term limits proves it. Other writers above have given the most cogent reasons for not enacting such a statute, but here’s something else to think about. Does Mr. Lee dismiss his key executives at his company periodically in order to bring in “new” people? What about the rank-and-file workers. Are they terminated so that an apprentice installer or repairman can take the place of someone else?
    I think that, in both cases, the answer in no. This isn’t an issue to gain or build support on, and with the race for TN Governor wide open, he needs to find vastly different issues in which to make himself known. I want to hear about taxes, education, infrastructure etc., and no one among the candidates is talking about them.
    Boyd comes across as a 44 carat phony, Black just seems mad at the world. Both of these folks talk endlessly about events in their lives from many, many years ago, and I could not care less.
    Be careful folks, or you could wind up with Karl Dean. And you don’t want that.

  2. Sim

    Tennessee recently passed a law that Candidates for an office must be “Qualified” for that office, such as being a school trained lawyer before qualifying for the office of Judge.

    But according the decision in “State v. Schragg” that is a violation of Citizens rights to elect “Whoever” they feel would be the best person in that position, regardless of Qualification.

    “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”.

    How many candidates have a diploma from the “School of “Congress, Senate or Governor”???

    Regardless of how “well the intentions” were of this law, it’s a serious attack on citizens to elect “Whomever” they chose.

  3. 83ragtop50

    Although I am in favor or term limiting elected and appointed government officials, this sounds to me that Mr. Lee is grasping at straws to become relevant.

    I wonder what his sound bite for tomorrow will be.

    Am I the only one that thinks the Black TV ad that shows her walking along railroad tracks in blue jeans and carrying a book is ridiculous? Looks like she is lost and out of place.

  4. Dave Vance

    Term limits are not remedy for the apathy and ignorancecof many voters. I would hate to lose the few decent legislators we have to a rule a stupid law.

  5. Wolf Woman

    Politicians have term limits. It’s called voting the incumbent out and we the people control the process. Or not.

  6. Stuart I. Anderson

    See what happens when you answer pollster’s questions in a haphazard political correct way? Bill’s campaign manager reads the polls that indicate a majority of voters want term limits so he tells Bill Lee to be in favor of term limits now, who knows, if by some fluke Lee actually becomes governor he will be a term limit advocate.

    Term limits are undemocratic. Instead of arbitrarily taking away my right to vote it arbitrarily takes away the right of potential candidates I want to vote for to run. If you think term limits leads to better government have you watched the machinations of the Davidson County Council lately?

    If Bill’s campaign manager wants him to be a reformer of Tennessee’s electoral system how about having Lee advocate closing Tennessee’s primaries so the centrists/tepid conservative incumbents can’t use Democrats to gain re-election in primary after primary. How about runoffs so that incumbents can’t use their name recognition to receive a solid base of support to win with much less than 50% of the vote while facing numerous opponents who split the more than 50% opposition vote. Would somebody please tell Lee’s campaign manager that Lee can be a reformer without being undemocratic.

  7. Terry

    Term limitations seek to prevent an incumbent from having a stranglehold on the position. Imagine if the President of the United States was not term-limited – would the previous President ever have been ousted without term limits? That would likely have been the final death knell for our already struggling republic and devolve completely into being a democracy, i.e, tyranny of the masses, mob rule. In fact, the 22nd Amendment was a reaction to Roosevelt’s unprecedented 4 terms. But it’s not just the chief executive, it’s also his cabinet that remains ensconced in power…and that’s where the real work gets done.

    It is also intended to disrupt “good ole boy” networks. But what if you have an excellent legislator? One who fairly represents all of his constituents, one who has built solid working relationships with fellow legislators of a similar ilk, one who understands the mechanisms of the legislative process? If your district has become safer and more prosperous under their leadership, why would you want to disrupt that?

    Rather than arbitrary term limits, how about a performance scheme instead? One whereby a minimum level of performance in terms of public safety, prosperity and educational attainment be imposed for each district – taking into account each district’s respective socioeconomic baseline, and, if the district fails to meet that minimum level of performance, the legislators are no longer eligible for reelection.

    That would be more of a meritocracy, which is what’s needed. Moreover, what gets measured, gets done – so having objective measures of performance would facilitate policies that promote the general welfare, as opposed to elections being little more than an exaggerated form of a high school popularity contest.

    The people should be the ones making that decision and vote according to their own best interests and that of the state writ large.
    Neither morality nor civic responsibility can be legislated, that has to come from within.

    1. If only Trump would eventually endorse Bill Lee for TN Governor, wow!

  8. Kevin

    I support and will vote for Bill Lee, but term limits are NOT a replacement for an informed, engaged, citizenry! Holding elected officials accountable is OUR job! Of course, by design, we all are spending a record amount of our calendar “work” year paying for all of our tax burdens. So paying attention and getting involved, is a second job!

    I do believe that the US 17th amendment needs to be either repealed or at the very least, modified to a shorter term, 4 not 6 years. Additionally, the “fourth” branch of government, the career bureaucrats, needs to have a serious restructuring.