Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Monday

October 29, 2012

Report: Term-limited officials still in government, lobbying

LANSING (AP) — Most Michigan legislators have stayed in government or move into lobbying jobs during the 20 years that the state has had term limits for its House and Senate members, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Detroit Free Press study found that 23 percent of lawmakers stayed in state elected offices, 19 percent became lobbyists or consultants, 14 percent took other government jobs, and 13 percent entered business. Eleven percent were elected to full-time, paid local offices; 8 percent retired; 3 percent each moved to nonprofits, took federal offices or did other things; and 2 percent died in office or soon after, the study said.

The report was based on the moves of 291 lawmakers elected between 1992 and 2004.

Voters adopted an amendment to the Michigan Constitution in 1992 that gave House members a lifetime limit of three two-year terms. The limits for senators and others with four-year terms were set at two terms.

Scott Shackleton, a Republican from Sault Ste. Marie, spent six years in the state House. He's now among the small number of ex-legislators working in the private sector.

"Lansing is like a big deck of cards," Shackleton said. "Everyone is still there, but it's all shuffled and people are in different positions." At the time the term limits were enacted, backers said the change would empower voters by getting rid of career politicians in the clutches of special interests.

Now critics are saying the term limits have shifted power away from inexperienced elected officials to bureaucrats and lobbyists.

"The dirty little secret, the irony of term limits, is the voting public has diminished their oversight, rather than increased it," said lobbyist Charles Perricone, a Kalamazoo Republican.

who served as state House speaker.

Ex-House Speaker Rick Johnson, R-LeRoy, said the inexperience of many legislators leads them to depend on lobbyists and bureaucrats for guidance.

"You're empowering citizens?" asked Alma Wheeler Smith, a Salem Township Democrat who served in both the House and the Senate. "No, you've empowered the executive (branch). You've cut your own power and voice because your representatives are not skilled enough and schooled enough to hold their own." Mike Prusi, a Democrat from National Mine in the Upper Peninsula, served in the House from 1995 to 2002 and the Senate from 2003 to 2010. He said term limits give legislators seeking their next jobs an incentive to curry favor with potential employers.

"It creates some potential conflicts as legislators are jockeying for their next employment where they may want to take an issue that a special interest is eager to get through the Legislature, on the promise of employment," Prusi said.

Patrick Anderson, chief executive of Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing and a co-author of the term-limits amendment, said any system has risks.

"The chance of corruption because people stay in office forever has gone down," he said. "The temptation to curry favor in the last few months has gone up." On balance, he said, the risks are smaller now.

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