ST. GEORGE — The United Utah Party announced Monday that it is launching a ballot initiative imposing term limits on state elected offices.
The United Utah Party, which characterizes itself as a moderate centrist alternative to Utah’s Republican and Democratic parties, submitted a ballot infinitive application Monday to the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office that would put a 12-year limit on state legislative offices and an eight-year limit on executive offices.
Under the proposed initiative, Utah House members would be allowed to serve six consecutive terms, while senators would be allowed to serve up to three consecutive terms. However, lawmakers would not be banned from running again after being out of office for at least one term. The initiative exempts elected officials currently serving.
The offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer and state auditor would also be limited to two four-year terms under the ballot initiative. Municipal and federal-level offices are not affected by the initiative.
“The goal is to restore the ideal of citizen service and discourage career politicians,” United Utah Party chair Richard Davis said in a press release. “What we are proposing is a reasonable term limit that still allows elected officials to serve long enough to make a difference, but not so long their career becomes more important than their constituents.”
Other reasons the United Utah Party is pushing the initiative include allowing a fresh rotation of new blood to enter office, eliminating any sense of entitlement to an office and decreasing the advantages of incumbency for candidates seeking reelection.
“We believe an initiative will make it harder for the Legislature to play games with the voters since it will be the voters who impose the term limit system,” Davis said.
Though the application to get state-level term limits on the 2020 ballot has been submitted to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, whether it advances remains to be seen. It will still be subject to a series of public hearings across the state as well as a statewide signature-gathering campaign.
Ballot initiatives have become increasingly popular in Utah in recent years. In the 2018 election cycle, multiple initiatives were launched that made it to the ballot and subsequently passed. Groups that engage in the ballot initiative process often state that the Legislature does not adequately deal with specific issues, such as in the cases of legalizing medical marijuana and expanding Medicaid.
“We prefer the legislative process, but we know that legislators will not seriously limit their own terms,” Davis said. “The last time they did so, they repealed it before it affected anyone.”
In 1994, in response to a citizen initiative, the Utah Legislature limited its terms to 12 years. However, in the last two hours of the 2003 legislative session, with no debate, the Legislature repealed its own term limit. Gov. Mike Leavitt signed the repeal.
“If it gets on the ballot, we are confident it will pass,” Davis said. “Surveys show that the voters want term limits. We will need the help of many Utahns to get this on the ballot.”
If such an initiative were to pass, Utah would join 15 other states that have term limits on their legislators and 28 states that have term limits on their governors.
On the national level, there have been calls for term limits over the years. Supporting groups often looked at long-serving Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch as a poster boy for term limits prior to his retirement following over 40 years in the U.S. Senate. However, such efforts, even when they’ve had a measure of congressional support, have made little headway.
Locally, there was some discussion related to term limits on the municipal level during the 2013 election cycle when St. George Mayor Dan McArthur, who had served for 20 years as mayor by that point, was seeking reelection. He ultimately lost to then-City Council member Jon Pike, who is currently serving his second term as St George’s mayor. Even so, municipalities are unable to pass term limits or rescind term limits on mayoral or council positions under state law.
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