The secretary of state's office said today that a proposal to roll back the term limits
provision of the Arkansas Constitution has enough valid signatures to qualify for the November election ballot. The petition campaign began two years ago,
but was finished with help of paid canvassers.
The proposal limits state legislators to 10 years of service, down from a minimum of 16.
Needing 84,859 signatures, the secretary of state said it had counted 93,998 valid signatures out of 124,674 submitted.
If approved in November, the measure could bring an upheaval in the legislature two years later because majorities of both houses — presuming they are the same as today — would be ineligible for further service under the proposal, which is retroactive to include past service.
As it stands, legislators are limited to 16 years of total service, but two-year terms drawn by senators after redistricting every 10 years don't count against the limit. So, for example, Sen. Cecile Bledsoe
is currently running for a term that will give her 20 years in the Senate. Depending on the draw and the future of this amendment, Sen. Jason Rapert
could serve 22 years in the Senate.
The current provision was disingenuously pitched as a "term limits" amendment in a legislatively referred
amendment in 2014 that also gave legislators cover for a huge pay raise and provided loopholes for nominal limits on lobbyist wining and dining. It replaced a previous amendment that limited service to six years in the House and eight years in the Senate. (Again, with a lucky draw, a legislator could qualify for up to 16 years of total service.)
The new limit, actually looser, not more limiting, is a godsend for the power-hungry. Accruing 16 (or 20 or 22 ) years in a single house is a pathway to immense power, similar to lifetime tenure before term limits for some incumbents. Added to legislative efforts to strengthen their power over the executive branch with new review powers, it's even more fearsome. And Issue One,
also on the ballot this year, will make their power even mightier by stripping the Arkansas Supreme Court of rule-making authority will discouraging lawsuits for damages.
The canvassing was financed by the national term limits organization, which has been powered
over the years by conservative forces. As yet, no organized opposition has appeared, but several legislators have already been griping about the potential for shorter tenures.
They argue that the state would suffer from the loss of institutional memory and experience. It was precisely that sort of thing that brought us the enormous GIF scandal and dishonest term limits amendments. Times columnist Jay Barth wrote this week
about what he sees as disadvantages.
Here's a video the campaign has put together.
One more thing: the latest proposal would allow changes only by initiative, not by legislation or amendment referred by legislature.