Weekly Opinion Editorial
TERM LIMITS & RECALL
by Steve Fair
Oklahoma State Senator Mike Schulz, (R-Altus), says he will file a Joint Resolution in the upcoming legislative session that would allow most statewide elected officials to serve up to 12 years in office if approved by Oklahoma voters. Schulz says his proposal would not apply to the governor or the corporation commissioners. Currently corporation commissioners can serve two terms of six years or a total of 12 years. The changes would impact the offices of lieutenant governor, state auditor, attorney general, labor commissioner, insurance commissioner, school superintendent and treasurer. Currently those office holders are limited to two terms or eight years. Statewide term limits are the result of the passage of SQ #747, authored by then State Senator Randy Brogdon, (R-Owasso). It was approved in 2010 by 70% of Oklahoma voters.
“Term limits are good public policy, and my proposal would ensure they stay in place, but for most statewide offices a longer term is going to allow for more efficient and effective administration,” said Schulz. “Twelve year term limits have worked for members of the Legislature, and they will be just as effective for statewide offices. A great deal of expertise and knowledge are required to effectively administer these offices, and sensibly extending these terms to up to 12 years is a reform that can produce a better state government.”
A Joint Resolution need only be passed by both chambers to be sent to the vote of the people. It does not require the governor’s signature. Should term limits for statewide be revisited after just six years? Yes, Schulz’s proposal certainly bears looking into for the following reasons:
First, giving statewide 12 years would make Oklahoma term limits consistent. Currently legislators can serve 12 years- corporation commissioners (also statewide officials) 12 years, but the other statewides only 8 years. Oklahomans overwhelmingly support term limits- as they should- but term limits should be reasonable and result in better government. Limiting a statewide official, who is doing a good job, to just two terms results in constant turnover that could lead to bureaucrats gaining control of the agency and bad government.
Second, statewide officials are administrators, not lawmakers. What difference does that make? In a legislative body, seniority matters, longevity matters. Power and influence are directly related to how long a legislator has been in office. That is why in Oklahoma some legislators served 30-40-50 years. That is not necessarily the case with an administrator. A good Attorney General or Treasurer can be evaluated on their body of work as the head of the agency. If they do a bad job, they should be booted out. If they do a good job, give them another term- up to 12 years. That is the beauty of Schulz’s proposal; it doesn’t eliminate term limits- it just increases the number of terms an administrator can serve.
Third, it might slow down or eliminate the ‘musical chairs’ game. It is highly likely some of the current statewides, who are termed out, will run for another of the statewide offices. That might not be the case if they had another term. Under current law, a person can run for each of the ten statewide offices and serve two terms in each. There is no cumulative term limit rule (which perhaps should be considered). If the goal of term limits is to eliminate career politicians, it hasn’t worked. The career pol just runs for another office where term limits don’t apply to their situation.
Fourth, recall should be part of the discussion. The enactment of term limits in Oklahoma has revealed a significant gap. If a termed-out elected official knows they are not going to face the voters again, they can stray off the reservation. Last year, some lame duck legislators bragged they didn’t have to listen to people anymore about the National Popular Vote issue because they were termed-out. If recall were an option, that wouldn’t be the case. Term limits should always include a recall mechanism.As a longtime advocate for term limits for all offices, I believe Schulz is onto something. His proposal to simply give statewides an extra term and cap them at 12, not 8 years would likely result in better state government. That is something every Oklahoman should want. Just add Recall to the proposal.