Will voters tweak the term limit law?
In a year when the downside of term limits is being realized, voters will get a chance to tweak the law in the election, which is now less than 100 days away.
There are 26 legislative races on the November ballot -- the 25 odd-numbered districts plus one even where the incumbent stepped down early. There are nine retiring incumbent lawmakers who must step down because of term limits. That group includes one of the most popular Speakers of the Legislature in recent years as well as the heads of five committees -- including the powerful Appropriations and Revenue Committees. How's that for a downside?
In the nation's only non-partisan, one-house legislature, institutional memory is very important. That's something that probably escaped the framers and promoters of the law change passed by voters several years ago to limit senators to two terms.
With the brunt of their focus set on removing the venerable Ernie Chambers -- clearly the senior member of the 49 with 38 years experience -- they clearly overlooked the fact that other turnover could occur and have an impact. Opponents of term limits argue that two terms, 8 years, is hardly enough time for a lawmaker to understand the system and make a difference.
Proponents, fueled by their dislike of Chambers often-obstreperous ways, forged ahead and convinced voters that he had to go. Chambers was often called the second house of the Legislature for his ability to play the legislative rule book like a piano and cause his colleagues to slow down and totally scrutinize a number of bills that might otherwise have flown through the process. That can happen in a unicameral.
It's doubtful they could foresee a situation where: Appropriations' Chairman Sen. Lavon Heidemann; Banking Chairman Sen. Rich Pahls; Natural Resources Chairman Sen. Chris Langemeier; Revenue Chair Sen. Abbie Cornett and Transportation Chair Sen. Deb Fischer would all be term-limited out. To say nothing of Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, known for his cool-headed, even--handed ability to bring lawmakers to consensus.
Other veteran exits are being done by: Omaha Sen. Gwen Howard; Ellsworth Sen. LeRoy Louden whose Sand Hills and partial Panhandle district is going to the Omaha area because of population shifts and redistricting; and Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton who was appointed mid-term to replace his predecessor turned State Auditor Mike Foley. Fulton could have challenged the law's definition of "term," but chose not to and is stepping down.
In an interesting twist, Chambers has sat out the one term required by the law, and is on the ballot again, seeking to upend his successor, Sen. Brenda Council. On another ballot issue, voters will have a chance to decide if they want to change the term limits from two terms to three terms.