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2015 In Review: Strong Move Towards Extending Term Limits Decelerates

Andy Chow

2015 was the year a collection of state lawmakers, local officials and historians took a long look at extending term limits. But opponents said average Ohioans had a different view about the idea.

At the end of 2014, Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder of Medina stepped out of office as the second-longest serving state lawmaker. He left because of term limits. And maybe not coincidentally, extending term limits was one of the big issues he still wanted to tackle.

Right now, a lawmaker can be elected to serve in either the House or Senate for 8 years. After that they cannot run for that seat in the next election. However, they can run for the opposite chamber or wait for the subsequent election.

These are term limits that were approved in the early 90’s by a pretty large margin. But Fred Mills, a former Ohio House chief of staff and longtime insider, said these term limits do away with institutional knowledge.

Credit Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission
Fred Mills, Chair of the Legislative Branch and Executive Branch Committee within the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission

“We threw out 800 years of experience in ’92. I think we have inherent term limits -- they’re called elections,” Mills said.

Mills chaired a committee within the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission that made a big push in changing term limits in 2015. The commission is a panel of legislators, local government officials and political science experts who are reviewing the state’s constitution.

A proposal would’ve extended term limits from 8 years to 12. One plan excluded current lawmakers, and a second plan one included them.

Rob Walgate with the conservative-leaning Ohio Roundtable has been fighting these plans. He says average Ohioans are not calling for this, in other words, where’s the public outcry for change?

Credit "The State of Ohio"
Rob Walgate, Ohio Roundtable

“Have you met anyone on the street that’s said ‘you know what I think elected officials need to serve longer,’ have you come across any of those people?  Cause I haven’t. The only people that talk about that are the people walking these halls,” claimed Walgate.

Before the summer break, it seemed like a plan to extend term limits was on the fast track for the 2016 ballot. But then another group jumped into the mix, a national group known as U.S. Term Limits.

The group’s Nick Tomboulides said the commission shouldn’t even take on this issue since it’s partially made-up of current lawmakers.

“I think it’s time for Ohioans to shine some light on the modernization commission and ask if it really has the people’s best interest in mind,” said Tomboulides.

The group started putting out fliers that targeted lawmakers who were considering a change.    

Credit Eight Is Enough Campaign, Facebook
An example of the social media posts and mailers that have been sent out to voters in an effort to fight against extending term limits

To add fuel to the fire, an Ohio group known as “Eight is Enough” started working on a measure to put on the 2016 ballot to counter any effort to extend term limits. In that initiative, not only would the term limit stay at 8 years, but the lawmaker would have to leave office and never come back to either chamber after a total of 12 years served.

A poll conducted by the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute found that most Ohioans favor term limits. But as the Bliss Institute’s John Green explains, there’s also evidence that people would support lengthening term limits to -- once again -- restore some of that institutional knowledge.

“When you have a president of the Senate or a speaker of the House who’s been there for a few years and could maybe serve as many as 12 then there’s just a much higher learning curve -- they have much more information about the complex elements of public policy,” said Green.

To get the commission’s proposal onto the ballot, the commission must approve it as a recommendation. Then the General Assembly would have to pass it as a resolution.

As of now there’s no word on this plan going anywhere soon. And 2016 is an election year at the Statehouse the entire Ohio House and half the Senate are on the ballot.

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