Freshman proposes 12-year limit on Iowa lawmakers

Gov. Branstad opposed to imposing term limits

James Q. Lynch
Published: February 4 2014 | 4:13 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:10 am in
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Proposals to enact term limits on Iowa lawmakers are as predictable as their failure to win approval from the legislators who would be subject to them.

That isn’t stopping freshman Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Melcher-Dallas, from proposing to limit Iowa House and Senate members as well as the governor and lieutenant governor to no more than 12 years in those elected positions.

“Public service is a trust that needs to be restored,” said Heartsill, the lead sponsor of House Joint Resolution 2002, said Tuesday. Imposing term limits “is a necessary step for the citizens of Iowa to regain confidence in the political system.”

Citizens might have even less confidence in the system if all their legislators are short-timers, countered Rep. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, who is in his 18th year.

An analysis by the Council of State Governments of legislatures with term limits found it was “all bad for representative government,” Taylor said.

“It puts the power in the hands of well-intentioned, but unelected staff,” he said.

Although it sounds cliché, Taylor argued that elections are the proper form of term limits. He also pointed out that Iowa’s non-partisan redistricting process creates large turnovers every 10 years.

He’s not sure what problem Heartsill’s proposal would solve because only 15 of 100 House members have served more than 12 years. Another 10 are in their 12th year. In the Senate, at least 27 of 50 members have served fewer than 12 years.

Heartsill’s proposal is in response to concerns voiced by constituents, he said.

“This is in hopes of getting the discussion started,” he said. “It gives the folks back home an opportunity to restore trust in government.”

Critics of term limits say it limits the institutional knowledge of legislatures leaving the bodies populated by inexperienced lawmakers unprepared for both policy and procedural challenges.

Heartsill thinks 12 years strikes a balance between the potential loss of institutional knowledge and preventing career politicians.

Not surprisingly, Gov. Terry Branstad, who is seeking re-election to a sixth four-year term, is not a fan.

“The governor believes the citizens of Iowa have the opportunity to elect new officials each time they go to the ballot box,” Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said.

Branstad also suggested that if term limits are enacted they should include the state treasurer, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor and secretary of agriculture as well as the governor and lieutenant governor.

Attorney General Tom Miller and Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald each have served eight four-year terms and plan to seek re-election this year.

 

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