Term Limits And Length Of Service In The House

A debate broke out in a couple of threads in recent days over term limits. I made the comment that Legislators aren’t staying as long as they used to. To bolster my comment here’s a spread sheet showing the length of service of each member of the House. 24 Members won’t return next year for various reasons. With Members leaving and several open seats due to redistricting, there will be another large freshman class sworn in next January. My freshman class is 43 strong. Add another 20+ freshman next year and the average years of service in the House continues to shrink.

Does this prove we don’t need term limits? Perhaps not, but I think folks like Calvin Smyre and Tyrone Brooks serving 30+ years are the exception these days. I’m sure the debate will rage on.

Here are some summary numbers.

Average Years Service of Retiring Members GOP: 10.80, Dem:11.44
Median Years Service of Retiring Members GOP: 8.00, Dem: 10.00

Average Years Service of Remaining Members GOP: 8.12, Dem: 9.50
Median Years Service of Remaining Members GOP: 8.00, Dem: 8.00

29 comments

  1. Joshua Morris says:

    Term limits take power away from the people. The problem, as I see it, is party support and protection of incumbents, especially in statewide races. I think each party ought to take the stance of promoting primary challenges. Incumbents should be expected to defend their records of upholding party principles.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      “I think each party ought to take the stance of promoting primary challenges.”

      Good luck with that. You’d have an easier time passing term limits than getting the parties to actually make incumbents justify their existence.

      • ryanhawk says:

        The parties are not going to do it, but partisans can and should. We need outside groups (or parties within a party) that can pressure both Democrat and Republican incumbents. For all its faults, this is why I support the “Tea Party” and tea party like groups that challenge Republican incumbents.

        It’s also important that incumbents face opposition every election cycle so 1) they don’t have the time to help other incumbents and 2) they don’t have time to build a large campaign bank account that they use to protect themselves and other incumbents.

    • seekingtounderstand says:

      Joshua you should know that your reps are going to support a longer term limit this next session. And there is nothing to stop it. The fix is in.

  2. CobbGOPer says:

    As I said before, Buzz: the turnover that we’ve seen in the last ten years, starting with the GOP takeover of the General Assembly in what, 2004? That turnover skewed the numbers down as we moved away from one-party Democrat rule and booted out the long-serving Democrats from outside Atlanta. Now almost a decade later, we have pretty much achieved the complete flip of the state to one-party GOP rule, a mirror image of where we were in Georgia before the early 2000’s.

    Again, the important question is how many of these folks will be there in 2020, 2025, 2030?

    And again, I posit that most of them would LIKE to be there for as long as possible, and will do whatever they can to make that happen.

    Besides Buzz, if you’re telling me that legislators don’t actually serve that long on average (about 8-10 years according to your numbers, yes?), then why should they be opposed to term limits that are longer than their average years of service (I propose and support a six-term/12 year max, though I could be pursuaded to support 8-terms/16 year term limit at the maximum range)?

    Seriously Buzz, you’re telling me 12-16 years in the legislature is not long enough? I just don’t see your numbers mattering much considering how they’ve been skewed by the unique circumstances of our political landscape over the last decade.

    • “Seriously Buzz, you’re telling me 12-16 years in the legislature is not long enough?”

      You’re asking the wrong question. The same could be said about income: Nobody needs to make a million dollars, we can all live on far less. Term limits are treating the symptoms rather than the problem. Voters have the opportunity to vote out the entire Legislature every two years. Rather than gimmicks that have caused problems in other States (google it if you want) let’s get more voters informed and involved in the process and thus making more informed votes.

      I don’t think the numbers are skewed because a number of Democrats switched to the GOP in two waves. In ’04-’05 and then again in ’11. They brought their length of service with them. People are server shorter terms and I think it’s going to stay that way for a while.

      • ryanhawk says:

        Term limits aren’t perfect Buzz, but the “let’s educate voters” plan has failed for the better part of recorded history. But I’ll play along. What is your plan to get “more voters informed and involved”? I would suggest applying open record laws to the legislature. That would help with the “more informed” part, yes?

        • Charlie says:

          While I’m not Buzz, I’ll posit what part of his plan is:

          You do realize that he’s been a Georgia political blogger since there was such a thing, and that he’s continued to be one – despite the advice of what any political consultant would recommend.

          So I will ask you, why do you think Buzz spends his time and subjects himself to the pointed questions he gets here? Because politically, it’s probably a net negative.

          • CobbGOPer says:

            It may be a net negative, but I respect Buzz a metric crapload more than any of his colleagues for his insistence on maintaining this kind of dialogue with regular voters.

          • Calypso says:

            “So I will ask you, why do you think Buzz spends his time and subjects himself to the pointed questions he gets here?”

            The attractive paycheck you mail him weekly?

          • ryanhawk says:

            Why Buzz does what he does isn’t really the point. He’s a good guy, you are a good guy, and I’m a good guy. But the fact of the matter when it comes to informed and involved voters is that they aren’t.

            Institutional reforms could make a small difference in how well informed and involved voters are, but a politician typing on a blog, yakking it up at a town hall, etc… that is not going to make any difference whatsoever. (Unless they were wired that is, or otherwise willing to out the “bad apples” among them.) So if you want to propose “informed and involved voters” as a solution to anything, you need to propose an institutional reform that will move us in that direction.

            • Charlie says:

              Yes, I think there’s quite a few who aren’t. The overwhelming majority, actually.

              As I’ve said many times before, the reason that there needs to be an independent system of accountability is the same reason that banks have strict audit procedures for each employee that handles cash or has access to make paper/electronic transactions. It’s not because banks don’t hire honest people. It’s to balance the everyday temptation that real people face in their daily activities with a real threat of dire consequences if they go astray.

              When the system has no check or balance, and when there is no accountability for those who do wrong, it paints everyone involved with a broad brush. Unless those change the system and hold those who transgress accountable, they remain with the paint of that brush.

              But I do know there are those actively trying to change it. One of them is the author of this post.

        • I won’t claim to know the ins and outs of open records law. Perhaps your idea has merit.

          However every committee meeting is open to the public, most in the House are recorded and stored on the internet. Every bill I introduce, every vote I cast, every expenditure on my behalf, every donation I receive, every campaign dollar I spend, my salary, the reimbursement I receive, the terms of the benefits I receive, the retirement program I’m a part of, are all online for anyone interested to look at.

          Is there something specific you’re looking for or do you just have a general complaint?

          • Dave Bearse says:

            A problem with floor votes, especially in the Senate, is the process by which legislation that will be voted on is secretly determined and votes tallied before the legislation ever gets to the floor.

            Legislation that goes to the floor is usually very safe for all concerned. The nearly decade long saga of Sunday sales is demonstrative of the process. The leadership gets what it wants, with dissent controlled.

            The Committee process, especially toward the end of session, is weak. Remember O’Neil making quiet changes that he didn’t voluntarily fess up to that put $100,000 in Perdue’ pocket? How about the CAPCO that everybody in the House voted for with many if not most not knowing that they’d voted for it. And just this session hunting license legislation almost being used as a vehicle to shield information from the public?

            PS – All Committee meetings aren’t open to the public, as demonstract by the two recent meetings concerning Balfour. Not that I’m saying they should have been public, just refuting a blanket statement.

      • CobbGOPer says:

        You discount the intelligence of voters. They already are pretty informed and involved in the process. Their problem is they don’t have any G-D choices at the polls.

        “Voters have the opportunity to vote out the entire Legislature every two years.” Not in my district. My state senator and rep are unopposed. Which means a healthy bit of their campaign cash is going to go to some other incumbent, maybe even Don Balfour (god forbid), to help keep them in office. The system is heavily weighted against challengers. If you want to talk about addressing that problem, then we can have that conversation. But don’t give us such tired lines as the above when you know exactly how many unopposed incumbents (yourself included, I might add) will be returning to the General Assembly next year.

        So until we can address that problem, I will continue to support booting you guys after a set term limit. No offense.

  3. John Walraven says:

    Yeah, Charlie. I’m no spreadsheet guru but I’m having a hard time with this one, bro! I’d be interested to see the numbers. Although each person’s decision to seek office comes with its own unique impetus, seeing the trends as discussed above would be interesting.

  4. ricstewart says:

    Term limits, like a proposed balanced budget amendment, are just another way for voters to abdicate their own responsibility to hold their government accountable.

  5. ted in bed says:

    Actually, we need term limits for LAWS. There is no reason why a law passed in the 1800’s or even the 1980’s should apply to the people living in the 2010’s. We should let each generation decide what laws will apply to them. A good law would be renewed without effort. The shackles of a bad law would be thrown off when it expires.

    • Calypso says:

      Interesting concept. Without much thought on the matter, I’m not sure I agree, but it does provoke some consideration in my mind!

    • Dave Bearse says:

      Potentially too much volatility. However I agree special interest/special purpose tax exemption/credit legislation should always be subject to sunset which will make the lobbyists that paid for it, if that was the case, have to demonstrate that it achieved the results it was enacted to achieve at the appropriate cost. (Not to legislators over a $200 dinner I might add, but in a publicly available report.)

  6. Ed says:

    “Seriously Buzz, you’re telling me 12-16 years in the legislature is not long enough? I just don’t see your numbers mattering much considering how they’ve been skewed by the unique circumstances of our political landscape over the last decade.”

    I always cite the experience of NE where the legislature has term limits. Because there is such continual change, the only people who have institutional knowledge and know how the system operates are lobbyists. So rather than the legislature know how to do what needs doing, it almost truly is the lobbying professionals running the state.

    “Actually, we need term limits for LAWS. There is no reason why a law passed in the 1800′s or even the 1980′s should apply to the people living in the 2010′s. We should let each generation decide what laws will apply to them. A good law would be renewed without effort. The shackles of a bad law would be thrown off when it expires.”

    I don’t think you’ve thought this through very much.

    • Joshua Morris says:

      I didn’t know about NE, but I bet you the life-long bureaucrats are getting away with a lot in that state that the lawmakers know nothing about. I think we should term limit government agency heads.

      • Ed says:

        I don’t think you’ve thought this through very much.

        Something tells me I am going to post that many, many times.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      I keep my salt-shaker firmly in hand when it comes to these ‘institutional knowledge’ arguments. First, it’s extremely difficult to prove. Second, more than likely something close to that is already happening even in states without term limits. Just because a legislature is full of members that have been there for decades, doesn’t mean said legislature isn’t still run by lobbyists. And just because someone may have decades of legislative knowledge about a particular subject, doesn’t mean they can’t be influenced by a lobbyist on that issue.

      I think you make too much of ‘institutional knowledge.’ If that were supremely important, then why not elect these guys to 10-year terms? After all, they can’t perfect their ‘institutional knowledge’ if they have to do all this pesky, time-consuming fundraising and campaigning every other year…

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