State lawmaker wants to reverse term limits - East Valley Tribune: Politics

State lawmaker wants to reverse term limits

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Posted: Thursday, January 14, 2010 5:30 pm | Updated: 3:33 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

In what may be her last act as a legislator, Sen. Carolyn Allen is trying to convince voters to undo the damage she helped cause nearly two decades ago: imposing term limits on lawmakers.

Allen said the idea, while it sounded good on paper, has proven to be a mistake. She said lawmakers with knowledge and experience are forced out of office.

The result, she said, has been to empower the lobbyists who get "a whole new crop (of new lawmakers) that they can try to influence - and do - immediately." And Allen said it has turned the power structure upside down, with the staffers who are supposed to be assisting and serving the lawmakers instead actually setting policy because they know how to work the system.

So now Allen, who helped put the proposal on the 1992 ballot, has introduced a measure to ask voters to repeal it.

Her move provoked a harsh response from U.S. Term Limits, the national organization that helped advance the idea in the 1990s.

Organization President Philip Blumel said he's seen these kind of efforts elsewhere. And he said they always seem to be pushed by politicians who want to keep their jobs.

Allen will be forced out at the end of this year, having served the maximum four two-year terms permitted by the 1992 constitutional amendment. Before that, she served eight years in the House.

But Allen said it's not personal and that, at age 72, she has no desire to remain a legislator. "I'd rather step in front of a train," she said.

The 1992 initiative was one of more than a dozen similar ballot measures nationwide. Allen, who was part of the bipartisan effort, said the aim was to end what can be lifetime appointments for members of Congress because of the benefits of incumbency.

But the measures were crafted in a way to affect not just federal but also state office holders.

In 1995, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only a federal constitutional amendment can limit the terms of federal office holders. That left states like Arizona with limits only on their own elected officials.

"Well, we've seen how it works," Allen said. "And I don't think we're the better for it."

The big problem, said Allen, is that the Legislature is filled with people who haven't been around long enough to know the history of how problems developed and the solutions that have and failed.

"The idea of losing 'institutional memory' is a good thing, I don't think it is," she said.

Allen said the closely linked problem is the ability of lobbyists to convince relatively inexperienced legislators to go along with certain proposals because they don't know what has been tried before.

Blumel said there's "some truth" to Allen's contention that term limits have made the professional staffers more powerful and more important. But he said that doesn't make it a bad thing.

"Keep in mind, also, that the staff is an extension of the legislator," Blumel said. He said while staffers provide advice and help, "it's the legislator who makes the decision."

But he said Allen is off-base in thinking that term limits are beneficial to lobbyists.

"Regular turnover in office makes the job of a lobbyist much harder," Blumel said. "In fact, being a lobbyist, one of the main things you do as a lobbyist is maintain long-term relationships with legislators that you have confidence in, and continue to fund them."

And Blumel said while there is a need for 'institutional memory,' there is a darker side to that.

"That institutional memory is lodged in an elite entrenched incumbency," he said. "When you have rotation in office, you have a much broader participation in, and intimacy with, the state government."

Anyway, Blumel said, the Internet and various online databases mean people have easy access to what has come before.

Allen has several hurdles to clear before she can get the constitutional provision repealed.

The first is getting both the Senate and House to approve SCR 1007 to put the question on the ballot. Then comes the chore of convincing voters to go along.

"I don't think the public is ready," Allen said. "The public probably still thinks it's a good idea."

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