Authors of the successful initiative limiting the terms of state elected officials said Thursday that they are considering a measure for the 1992 ballot that would impose similar limits on the state’s U.S. senators and members of the House of Representatives.
Meeting at a well-attended national conference on the growing movement to limit terms, the chief backers of successful measures in three states said they hope California would join Colorado, which in November became the first state in the nation to slap limits on the terms of its elected federal representatives.
“Someone most assuredly will seek to place an initiative “limiting federal terms” on the California ballot in 1992 . . . as long as it has a reasonable chance of being sustained in court,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, chief sponsor of Proposition 140, which imposed limits on California officials.
Schabarum said he is looking at sponsoring a measure that, like Colorado’s, would limit U.S. representatives and senators from California to 12 years of service. Others here predicted that voters in as many as 20 states will get the chance in the next two years to restrict the length of service for their own congressional delegations.
The conference, sponsored by a group that is trying to export the term-limit movement nationwide, came two days after it was disclosed that President Bush will push for a constitutional amendment limiting congressional terms.
Backers of term limits, such as Colorado state Sen. Terry Considine, said they doubt that members of Congress are ready to accept an amendment that would limit their terms. Instead, states that permit measures to be placed on the ballot by initiative will have to lead the way, said Considine, who wrote the Colorado initiative.
Proponents of term limits for Congress face a key constitutional question over whether individual states can impose limits on their federal representatives. Considine said he expects a legal challenge to the Colorado initiative, which limits members of the House and the state’s U.S. senators to 12 successive years in office. He acknowledged that the matter might be tied up in court for a decade.
“In the end, it’s a political question, not a legal question,” Considine said. He argued that if voters in state after state endorse term limits, politicians will back a constitutional amendment. “If there’s a consensus for term limits it will become the law.”
The group sponsoring the conference, Citizens for Congressional Reform, is hoping to get a federal term-limit initiative on the ballot in the remaining 22 states that have the initiative process, said Michael Hinds, the group’s director of field operations.
Supporters made it clear that California, the nation’s most populous state, will be a key state if backers are to succeed across the country.
“If you all pass it in California in 1992, it’s done,” said Lloyd Noble II, an independent Oklahoma oil man who authored a successful measure limiting lifetime servicein that state’s Legislature to 12 years.
Bush’s reported endorsement of congressional term limits drew a mixed response Thursday. Some argued that the President’s backing will give legitimacy to their cause; others contended that it could turn the matter into a partisan issue.
Because Democrats hold majorities in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, “more Democrats than Republicans will be dispossessed” by term limitations, said Lewis K. Uhler, the president of the National Tax Limitation Foundation and one of the authors of California’s Proposition 140. But proponents insisted that theirs is a nonpartisan issue and Uhler and others contended that term limits are likely to mean fierce competition from both parties for vacated congressional seats.
In California, Schabarum said he is bracing for an expected legal challenge to Proposition 140.
Schabarum announced that the nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation would defend Proposition 140 against any challenge in the courts.
Foundation attorney John Coupal said he was optimistic that Proposition 140 would survive a court test. “I never want to use the term bulletproof,” Coupal said, “but it gets about as close as you can get.”
California voters, by a margin of 242,000 votes out of more than 6.6 million cast, imposed limits on the terms of state legislators and statewide officeholders. The landmark Nov. 6 ballot measure limits Assembly members to six years in office and state senators and statewide officials to eight years. It also requires the Legislature to cut its operating budget by as much as 50% and eliminates lawmakers’ pensions. President Bush this week announced his support for a constitutional amendment that would limit congressional terms.