ST. LOUIS - Twenty-five years ago, this November, voters in Missouri decided to make sure our state lawmakers weren’t career politicians. An overwhelming vote put limits on how long our elected officials could serve in Jefferson City. But after a quarter of a century, some of the key players in that effort are now questioning if it was the right course.
“In a perfect world, I say they should go away”, says John Hancock, a former legislator and candidate for Secretary of State in that 1992 election. “I don’t think they’ve been helpful to the process of governing and I don’t think they’ve been useful to the legislature.” Hancock says he was in full support of term limits at that point because there were many lawmakers who he felt had been there too long and needed to be moved out. “I think it’s good for an institution to have fresh blood coming in,” he says. “But I think what you don’t want, is a third or a fourth of the institution to be first time lawmakers.”
Hancock says there is a great deal of value in having people who know how state politics work so things can get done. He points out that many good people are now being kept from serving simply because they served too long, which is something you would never see in the private sector.
Another man who helped push the vote for term limits is Greg Upchurch. He’s an attorney and headed the group Missourians for Limited Terms. He says the law is having the exact impact he had hoped for when he began campaigning for it a quarter-century ago. “We’ve gone from basic political corruption to as system that has been much cleaner,” he says. “if you look at the 25 years since it passed, we’ve gone the entire period without a single speaker of the Missouri House being indicted or convicted. In the 25 years before, 2 out of 4 speakers were both indicted and convicted.”
He also feels the argument that lobbyists are now more powerful than lawmaker’s due to term limits is an old argument that was being used prior to the law. “I see some legislators are conscientious in what they do and they get things done, and others just kind of blow it off. That was true before term limits and it’s still true.”
Some predictions from that election did come to pass. While others have not. First up, the number of minorities in the legislature has remained pretty consistent. But women have clearly seen their numbers increase due to term limits. The number of women in office has nearly doubled over that 25 years span.
One thing that we do know for sure is that the law in Missouri is not likely to change anytime soon. It passed with 75% of the vote in 1992 and polls show strong support for term limits across the nation to this day.