The Missouri Influencer Series

In their own words: Missouri leaders on the good and bad of term limits

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Missouri Influencer Series

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Earlier this year, state lawmakers contemplated asking voters to rewrite Missouri’s Constitution to allow legislators to serve 16 years in either the House or Senate, as opposed to the eight year cap currently in place.

The proposal easily cleared the Senate but stalled in the House on the final day of the 2018 session.

The Star’s readers wanted to know: What impact have legislative term limits had on how Missouri’s state government functions?

Plus, we asked: How has the influence of lobbyists and bureaucrats changed in the years following the implementation of legislative term limits?

Here’s how members of The Star’s Missouri Influencer panel answered those questions.

Kay Barnes, former mayor of Kansas City, senior director for university engagement at Park University

-I believe that term limits have been more of a detriment than advantage as there is less institutional knowledge and less appreciation for thoughtful and deliberate dialogue.

-Because of term limits, the influence of lobbyists and bureaucrats has increased. As a result, at times, there is an imbalance between legislative leadership and non-elected influence.

Michael Barrett, Missouri State Public Defender director

-Significantly reduces the institutional knowledge and memory of our elected representatives because once someone acquires the requisite information on a subject and finishes building the necessary coalitions to tackle large and challenging problems, it’s time for that legislator to move out.

-Low pay reduces the longevity of most — as you say — bureaucrats. There are many who stay who are worth their weight in gold. ... It’s strengthened the influence of lobbyists who will wrangle for tax credits for the devil if the check clears.

Jean Paul Bradshaw, lawyer and former U.S. attorney

-Term limits means that there is less “institutional knowledge” among legislators. Rather, that knowledge has moved to lobbyists and, to a lesser degree, bureaucrats. Also, legislators move into leadership more quickly and stay there a shorter time. This can make it harder to pass some more complicated or controversial legislation that would take multiple legislative sessions. By the time a legislator gets up to speed on such an issue, they may be term-limited out and the process has to start all over again.

-It has increased because they have more institutional knowledge relative to the legislators.

Mark S. Bryant, lawyer and former Kansas City Council member

-Generally speaking, term limits tend to shift power to government employees who have greater longevity than elected officials. There has been no discernible difference in the amount of misbehavior among elected officials. Elected officials spend the last two years of their term positioning for another elected office.

-Lobbyists are more affected by campaign and expenditure limits than term limits. Bureaucrats gain influence following the adoption of term limits because the duration of their employment exceeds the term limits of elected officials.

Scott Charton, CEO of Charton Communications

-The loss of institutional memory is a fact, and it’s a sad fact that impacts the state when lawmakers don’t understand and consider history. To be sure, most rookie lawmakers are eager to learn, and no one is born knowing history or parliamentary procedure. But the lack of historical knowledge is evident when mistakes are repeated and some lawmakers grapple with the basics. Many lawmakers have told me it took them two terms to grasp the scope and roles of state agencies, and by then, they have burned up their lifetime service in that chamber.

-Of course the influence of lobbyists and career governmental employees has grown — they know more about the history of governmental policies, programs, decisions and screw-ups than rookie lawmakers and, too often, senior lawmakers who, because of the pressure of the calendar with term limits, are more focused on re-election or their next job than on doing the best they can in their current role.

Woody Cozad, founder of the Cozad Company

- Lobbyists HATE term limits. I am one of maybe three Jeff City lobbyists who support term limits. The rest want the limits repealed or drastically amended. Term limits do NOT increase the power and influence of lobbyists. If they did, lobbyists would support retaining them.

- Since the adoption of term limits, no House Speaker, Senate President Pro Tem, or Lieutenant Governor has been sent to the federal penitentiary. Before term limits, incarceration of legislative leaders was pretty common.

John C. Danforth, former U.S. senator

-Term limits are an artificial and counterproductive way to try to improve state government. They have backfired, depriving the legislature of experienced talent.

-As the legislature becomes less effective because of term limits, the vacuum is filled by lobbyists and bureaucrats.

Jane E. Dueker, lawyer, radio host and former political adviser

-Along with the Hancock Amendment, term limits for legislators have ruined our state. Just when legislators begin to learn their job, they term or have to look at the next job. Because of term limits, legislators are always running and are forced to play more politics. Legislators don’t have to live with the consequences of their actions, disassociating them from policies they enact. The continual drain of expertise has resulted in the repetition of failed policies because of the lack of institutional knowledge. People ascend to leadership before they are ready. There is a lack of proper mentoring from long-time legislators. The decorum of the bodies has suffered because legislators do not have to deal with their fellow lawmakers for the long term. People are deprived of their choice of legislators. The quality of state government has decreased significantly because of term limits.

-The influence of lobbyists and bureaucrats has skyrocketed because they are the experts in state government. Both outlast legislators and are more powerful.

Pat “Duke” Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO

-Legislative term limits in Missouri have caused a loss of productivity and continuity. Newly elected members take time to learn how things work and to start building coalitions. Once these skills are fully developed they run out of time and must leave office. I know we once thought that the reason for dysfunction in government was due to career politicians, but now, that doesn’t seem to have been the root of the problem.

-I believe that the influence of lobbyist and bureaucrats has risen dramatically since term limits were imposed. Senior members still advise and guide newer people, but now they are paid to do it ... by someone.

John Fierro, Kansas City Public Schools board member

-Term limits in our state government lead to mixed outcomes when it comes to representation of constituents. The real focus should be on accountability. Legislators need to be held accountable when it comes to voting issues. Informing the public on how they can hold their own representatives accountable will lead to a greater political awareness on state and local issues. Attending political events, contacting representatives, and spreading awareness about representatives voting history are just a few ways constituents can hold their representatives accountable.

-In my opinion, the rule in Missouri of a six-month waiting period for lobbying for former legislators is too short. Self-interest plays a big part in politics. I would recommend advocating for former legislators to wait a full term, of two years, to lobby the house and a full term, of four years, to lobby the senate.

Gwen Grant, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City

- Legislative term limits have shifted the power dynamic from the people, through their elected officials, to the bureaucrats and lobbyists.

- Their influence has grown significantly. In effect, term limits hinder the ability of elected officials to represent their constituents. Collectively, lobbyists and bureaucrats have more power and influence. Institutional knowledge that comes with longevity is no longer vested in elected officials. It is now vested in lobbyists and bureaucrats who have no term limits and were not elected by the people to represent them.

Jason Grill, media, public affairs and crisis communications consultant

-Term limits have somewhat reduced the institutional knowledge of legislators, sped up the legislator learning curve, contributed to more legislators running for higher office more quickly and increased the power of lobbyists slightly. Term limits are OK in theory, but they should increase to 12 years in either body from the current number of 8 years. Having the ability to serve 12 years in the House and/or Senate would be a good compromise from where things currently are and balance everything out more effectively.

John Hancock, consultant and former chair of the Missouri Republican Party

-They have weakened the legislative branch of government versus the Executive Branch, the bureaucracy, and the government relations industry.

James Harris, political strategist

-Term limits have allowed more citizens to enter the legislature, and to do so on a regular basis, resulting in a more responsive legislature. Without entrenched incumbents, lawmakers are encouraged to keep in touch with the citizens they represent.

-Because of the number of new lawmakers elected every cycle, I believe lobbyists are more often a fundamental source of information for lawmakers than they were in the past. As for bureaucrats, I believe that they have on occasion gotten away with inaction more than they would without term limits; if they do not want to do something, they can tend to move slowly and try to wait out the legislators who are trying to spur them to act.

Deb Hermann, CEO of Northland Neighborhoods Inc. and former Kansas City Council member

-I believe that term limits have had a negative impact. The turnover in legislators has resulted in legislators who have less experience and community connections when they get elected and they aren’t there long enough to acquire either.

-Without good community connections and experience, the legislators get more of their information from lobbyists. Bureaucrats, not elected by the citizens, are making more and more decisions.

Bob Holden, former governor

-It has had a horrible impact. It has increased the turnover among legislators, more influence by special interests on the legislative bodies, and legislators more friendly to special interest.

Patrick Ishmael, director of government accountability for The Show-Me Institute

-Term limits have helped to inject a steady stream of fresh ideas and perspectives into the Capitol, but they have also limited the opportunities for officials to master any given role.

-In an environment where legislative turnover is inevitable, the power of lobbyists and bureaucrats has probably increased, since they remain in the halls of power session to session and administration to administration. That many of those lobbyists and bureaucrats are term-limited former legislators themselves is an issue deserving of particular public attention and oversight.

Sly James, Kansas City mayor

-Term limits have had a negative impact on continuity and consistency on the state level. By imposing term limits, politicians appear to always be looking for the next place to land and make decisions with that in mind. Historical perspective is lost, and secondary to the more immediate goals of preparing to run for the next office.

-Bureaucrats become the link between past and present. They are also then subjected to the shifting winds of direction caused by having to implement short-term political campaign promises rather than work on sustainable solutions to chronic problems.

Jolie Justus, Kansas City Council member

-Current term limits in Missouri cause the following problems: legislators do not have time to become subject matter experts; hyper-partisanship and short terms mean that legislators do not create meaningful, productive relationships with members of the opposing party; legislators are often looking toward their next office or job opportunity, rather than focusing on their current job and current constituents; bureaucrats and lobbyists and political staffers start to hold all the power because they can wait out the short terms of the legislators. This breeds mistrust and inconsistency and lack of transparency. With 197 house and senate seats, and a lack of folks who are willing to serve as a state legislator, term limits have resulted in some districts scrambling to find the quality of representation that the whole state deserves. The vast majority of all the institutional knowledge is held by lobbyists, bureaucrats and staffers. All of these problems are exacerbated by weak or non-existent ethics laws and unlimited campaign contributions and fluctuating campaign contribution laws. Term Limits + Weak Ethics Laws + No/Fluctuating Campaign Contribution Limits = potential for bad government.

Gregg Keller, principal of Atlas Strategy Group

-The desire to get rid of the professional political class through term limits was understandable but has had the exact opposite effect in practice. It’s ensured that the people in the Capitol who know the most about legislation and the legislative process are the lobbyists who have been there longer than the term-limited representatives of the people.

-As long as liberals insist on pumping tens of billions of dollars into state government every year having their social engineering dreams, there will be interests trying to get their share of those dollars. By limiting their experience vis-a-vis lobbyists, term limits have ensured special interests have the upper hand in all discussions.

Crosby Kemper, III, director of the Kansas City Public Library, co-founder of the Show-Me Institute

-Legislators are young and inexperienced but perhaps more directly in touch with constituents. Generally more partisan but that is a national trend.

Jennifer Lowry, chief toxicologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital

-The term limits have impacted Missouri’s state government functions, in my opinion, by allowing the legislature to evolve with the people they serve. In the past, little turnover meant few chances that forward thinkers could make change in how the government perceived issues and the impacts on the people of Missouri. Term limits allow changes to occur that mirrors the population.

-Term limits imply that those with a long history of relationships with lobbyists and bureaucrats would need to start anew with changing legislators. This may or may not occur. As we are well aware, money can still sway votes in the legislature even with new relationships. It is up to the voters to keep our legislators accountable.

Dianne Lynch, president of Stephens College

-Supporters say term limits open the door to new ideas, gender diversity and a younger cohort of leaders. Opponents say term limits make it harder for legislators to forge substantive working relationships. I say that if you can’t develop working relationships with your colleagues in 8 years, you’re probably in the wrong business. It’s no surprise that many politicians support term limits — until they are elected.

Richard Martin, director of government affairs at JE Dunn Construction

-Term limits have been a disaster in Missouri. It has transferred the power from the elected officials to the lobbyists and the consultants who get them elected.

-Staff are relied on much more than ever and that’s OK in most instances. Lobbyists though have far more power and influence and that’s not the right balance taxpayers and constituents desire.

Jay Nixon, former governor

-There has been a direct link to increased partisanship.

-The lobbyists’ power has increased.

CiCi Rojas, partner and president of Tico Productions and Tico Sports

-For the most part, I think it has been a positive thing. Except in some cases when a constituency loses a representative that really understands the community.

Leland Shurin, lawyer and chairman of the Kansas City Police Board

-It has made the lobbyists and bureaucracy more powerful.

-The way to change all this is to create competitive legislative districts. That will result in regular change by elections of members of the legislature as well as remove the most extreme members.

Ryan Silvey, chairman of the Missouri Public Service and former state senator

-Term limits have had a rapidly degenerating effect. We have lost a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge, while empowering unelected lobbyists and bureaucrats. Furthermore, it has eroded the willingness to work together and find agreeable solutions. Everyone knows exactly how much time is left on everyone else’s clock. Instead of working through problems with opposition, there is a propensity to just wait the opposition out and try again once they’re gone. By the way, this applies to both members of the legislature as well as special interests. The Founders actually debated and specifically rejected term limits in the original Constitutional Convention. Now we know why.

-In most cases, lobbyists and bureaucrats were there before the elected officials and they will be there when the elected officials are termed out. Consequently, they have become the repository for institutional knowledge. Members frequently rely on their advice because of their revered status instead of knowing how to recognize their self interest and when to push back.

Jeff Simon, managing partner, Husch Blackwell

-The state functions in a much different way, not for the better. Institutional knowledge and influence has moved to lobbyists and staff rather than elected officials. Personal relationships and bonds of collegiality, particularly across party lines, are much more difficult to form, leading to more rancor and discord in governance.

Mike Talboy, director of government affairs for Burns & McDonnell and former state legislator

-Term limits are terrible and have produced virtually nothing beneficial to policy and governing since being enacted. They have destroyed institutional knowledge inside the chambers and turned it over to outside groups. They also prematurely end involvement in government and policy for people who are there to do what is truly public service. It has also made working relationships harder due to there being a constant churn of people and an “up or out” reality if you want to stay in public service. Spending most of your first 5 months of the year traveling for hours to represent the public for what is a very low salary given the full-time job aspects of representation is not something that should be discarded and prematurely ended.

-They have gained a ton of clout now and are where all the institutional knowledge is housed.

Patrick Tuohey, Show-Me Institute director of municipal policy

-The negative effects of term limits are likely overstated. Most of the problems people identify with term-limited legislatures also occur with non-term limited legislatures. I am unaware of any study where differences have been studied to see if there is any change due to limits, so we are left with mild anecdotes.

-As long as government has a lot of power there is an incentive to use that power for personal gain.

Scott Wagner, Kansas City mayor pro tem

-Term limits have transferred the institutional knowledge of state government from legislators to lobbyists.

Maurice Watson, partner at Husch Blackwell

-This is a difficult issue. Term limits have had good and bad outcomes. To the good, theoretically, it brings new blood, new ideas and greater independence from longstanding ideas and relationships. To the bad, absent longstanding relationships among legislators, there is less inclination to work together across party lines to get things done for the benefit of all citizens in the state. There is also the problem of legislators being uninformed about important public policy issues and making decisions based on personal biases and whims instead of data. Generally, the state government is less functional as a result.

-Given a relative lack of knowledge and experience among legislators, there is greater dependency on bureaucrats and lobbyists without the necessary insight to independently assess the merits of issues.

Pam Whiting, vice president for communications, Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce

-Term limits have given us legislators who are inexperienced, which has led to lobbyists having entirely too much influence on the legislative process.

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