A year ago when Republican Governor Doug Burgum was candidate Doug Burgum, he dropped a mailer that advocated for term limits in North Dakota. This, of course, was based on his campaign rhetoric to "break up the good ‘ol boys club". A phrase that rubbed his now Republican legislative colleagues a bit the wrong way.
Well, as the recent Legislative Session wound down, and in the days since it ended, I have seen multiple references on social media to the need for term limits. Yes, it seems Doug Burgum’s campaign idea is still alive in the hearts and minds of some North Dakotans.
This then begs the question, "Should North Dakota have term limits?"
While I completely understand and often write about the frustration with North Dakota politics – and the legislature in particular – I have come to the conclusion that term limits are not a good fit for our state. In fact, in some instances, I don’t believe they’re even practical.
In some districts across the state, party’s find it difficult already to find candidates to fill legislative vacancies. I know of one district not long ago that waited at least one additional legislative session for one of their legislators to retire, because they could not find someone to replace him. I know of another district where a man was nearly coerced to become a candidate.
It’s also important to remember that our legislature meets every two years. With this as a reality, we must accept the fact that only certain individuals find themselves in a position of being able to serve. Typically it is those who are older, retired, self-employed, and/or in a position financially to be able to do it. The only other alternative to changing this is to go to a full-time legislature. Something that I recently wrote about and am vehemently opposed to.
There’s also the fact that imposing term limits could potentially leave constituents having to vote for a less popular candidate. Suppose Candidate A has served well and is thought highly of in their district. But then their imposed term limit comes up. Now suppose their successor, Candidate B, is the only one to step forward that is in a position of being able to serve. But what if Candidate B isn’t all that great on the issues? Now the voters are stuck having to vote for an inferior candidate.
And if you’re a Republican, you might want to re-think the idea of term limits. It’s also quite possible that such a requirement would mean that more Democrats would end up being elected in some districts. Although, to be fair, that may actually make some Republicans act more Republican. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing.
But overall, when considering the issue as a whole, I simply don’t see this as a practical option.
We also must not forget that we already have a form of term limits in place. It’s called voting the bums out. Go to your District Conventions and advocate for the candidate you’d like see representing you. Get involved in the primaries. The most effective and long-lasting change comes at the ballot-box. And if we can’t get change there, then maybe it’s the people that are a problem, not just the candidates being elected.