The League of Women Voters of Maine has long opposed term limits. When term limits passed by referendum in 1993, the League was the lead plaintiff in a law suit seeking to have them over-turned. When a measure appeared on the 2007 ballot to extend term limits, the League supported a "Yes" vote. We believed that extending term limits for state legislative offices from four to six terms was a partial reform that would have addressed some of the serious adverse effects of term limits.
- Term limits make the Legislature less effective.
- They weaken the Legislature's role in crafting sound policy solutions to complex problems.
- Under term limits, the Legislature is less representative of the people of Maine.
Today, the League supports repealing term limits outright to give the citizens of Maine the good government that they deserve.
By disqualifying legislators who have been able to gain skill through experience, term limits dilute the effective performance of the Legislature and weaken the Legislature's role in crafting sound policy solutions to complex problems.
Because term-limited legislators want to act quickly on their priority issues, they are more likely to focus on short term, urgent topics, rather than complex, long-term issues. The State of Maine faces many difficult and complex issues in public policy, and we need the best, most capable Legislature that we can elect to do the job.
The most representative body of State government -- the House of Representatives -- has been the most seriously disempowered by term limits. Because many Senators previously served in the House, they are more experienced; and power has thus migrated to the Senate. Term limits have effectively destabilized the bicameral relationship between the House and the Senate.
While term limits have diluted the performance of the Legislature, they have also increased the workload, choking legislative committees with bills that recycle old ideas that have failed in the past or that lack insight about good policy or political support. Without experience and knowledge of what has occurred in the past, legislators raise many of the same ideas over and over.
By decreasing the power of the Legislature, term limits have upset the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches.
Policy expertise that once was held by Legislative Committees has been ceded to Executive Branch department heads and partisan professional staff.
The citizens' initiative process is not infallible. When term limits passed in 1993, legislative turnover was already pretty high in Maine. And with over 20 years of experience under term limits, we see that the unintended consequences demand serious attention and remedy. The time has come to reflect on what has worked and what hasn't.
To learn more about term limits:
- Listen to a radio interview with term limits experts Richard Powell, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine and Karl T. Kurtz, Director of the Trust for Representative Democracy at the National Conference of State Legislatures. This interview broadcast on November 3, 2007 on WERU FM and is available at their audio archive
- "First in the Nation: Term Limits and the Maine Legislature," by Richard J. Powell, University of Maine, and Rich Jones, National Conference of State Legislatures, from the Joint Project on Term Limits, 2004, available at in PDF format at the NCSL web Site
- The National Conference of State Legislatures
- Changing Members: The Maine Legislature in the Era of Term Limits, Matthew C. Moen, Kenneth T. Palmer, and Richard J. Powell, published in partnership with the Margaret Chase Smith Center for Public Policy by Lexington Books, 2005.
- Bangor Daily News editorial October 27, 2007
- Bangor Daily News story October 25, 2007
- Ellsworth American op. ed. October 18, 2007
- Portland Press Herald editorial August 25, 2007
- Bangor Daily News editorial June 26, 2007
- League testimony
before the 123rd Legislature on repealing term limits.