In Michigan, representatives may be elected up to three two-year terms. Senators may be elected up to two four-year terms, per the Constitution of Michigan.
These limits are among the strictest in the country,
according to University of Michigan-Flint political science lecturer Kimberly Saks-McManaway. She said 15 states have restrictions of some kind.
Recently a bipartisan panel of former legislators acting through an attorney asked a federal just to strike down the voter-approved limitations as unconstitutional, according to Michigan Radio.
There’s no action on this question currently, but it offers a chance to examine Michigan’s term limits.
Saks-McManaway said that overall, the positive results of term limits are mixed. She said that while it can encourage diversity, the “churn” of new legislators can lead to an office staff that’s actually more powerful and better educated in legislating than the representatives or senators. “This goes against the idea of democratic elections because then unelected staff are more knowledgeable and powerful than the elected representatives themselves,” she said.
The “pork” spending isn’t eliminated by term limits, she said. The term refers to the practice of politicians trading favors granted to constituents or special interest groups in exchange for political support, such as in the form of votes or campaign contributions, according to investopedia.com.
This is why she’s against term limits herself. “I have always argued that elections are term limits,” she said.
For former legislators like State Rep. Joe Graves of Argentine Township, elections aren’t enough. Graves held the 51st district seat for all three two-year terms. He was unable to run again due to term limits, but he still supports them.
“I think career politicians have ruined the national stage,” he said, on both parties. He’s referring to the federal level where there are no term limits. He doesn’t like the idea of multi-decade “dynasties” of one family holding onto a seat for 50 years.
Graves said he would lengthen the terms for representatives, however. He said with two-year terms, they’re always running for office again.
In November 2018, Mike Mueller won the seat vacated by Graves. Mueller said term limits are both good and bad. They do keep legislators accountable and active because they only have so much time in office.
Echoing Saks-McManaway, Mueller said the downside is that institutional knowledge is lost. “The legislative process also takes time, and oftentimes you see the momentum of a bill killed when there is so much turnover,” Mueller said.
He agrees with Graves that two-year terms are not enough time. He thinks a four-year term would make more time to get legislation moved through.
Saks-McManaway thinks the length of terms are fine, but there should be more terms available to legislators. She said the current system leads to people moving through both houses of the legislature and then becoming lobbyists, which is “the very thing many term limits proponents claim they want to lessen or eliminate,” she said.