by Max Brantley
Hot tweet of the morning is Republican interest in doing away with, or at least easing, term limits.
Republicans led the charge for term limits years ago.
What's different now?
Republican majority today; Democratic majority then.
The Republican Crazy Caucus (Denny Altes, chair) has already introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would give a legislator 14 years of cumulative service.
Currently, a legislator with a lucky draw in the Senate after decennial redistricting can get up to 18 years in combined House and Senate service (six in the House and 12 in the Senate, though 8 to 10 is more common in Senate limits), but Altes' proposal would allow a lawmaker a run of 14 years in either chamber, where a House member now can get only six. That's long enough to become as powerful as the legislative dinosaurs of old.
Oh, but don't you see? Republicans now see the need for experienced lawmakers to go toe-to-toe with those wily state bureaucrats. Never mind that they hooted at that argument back in the day of the Democratic majority. They are wiser now. Power will do that.
We are also assured that the new legislature is just too green to cope. Why, the House this year has 40 freshmen. FORTY!!!
Another Republican, Mike Huckabee, was famous for writing history from his own experience. A big ice storm a few years back was the worst natural disaster (don't ever call it an act of God) to ever hit Arkansas. The Great Flood of 1927 was before Huck's birth, the same as not having happened at all.
So it is with the alarm about those green freshmen. Simple arithmetic and the six-year limit on House service tells you that about a third of the House is going to turn over every two years. Is 40 a record? Not hardly.
My legislative recordkeeper says there were 52 true freshmen in 1999, plus four more with a bit of recycled service in one house or the other but returning at the bottom of the seniority ladder. That's the biggest freshman group post-term limits. A number in the 30s is typical.
I'm willing to entertain the notion that a Republican majority House with a mere 40 freshmen might be less capable than a Democratic majority with 52. Based on legislative intros to date, for sure.
PS — I've always opposed term limits. Still do. Voters can decide. If term limits are to be removed, why do it by a half-measure? Why not remove them? Because legislators are trying to sneak one over on voters who, right or wrong, have made it clear they favor term limits.
PPS — More recent numbers on House freshmen, who aren't even as numerous as in 2011:
2003 — 35
2005 — 39
2007 — 35
2009 — 35
2011 - 47