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Bill Sponsored by 24-Term Lawmaker Seeks to Abolish Term Limits

The public will have a chance to weigh in on a bill that seeks to bring an end to term limits for state lawmakers. 

The measure, LD 182,  is sponsored by Representative John Martin, a Democrat from Eagle Lake who, after a short absence,  is currently serving his 24th term. Legislators'  consecutive terms in one chamber have been limited since 1993, the result of a referendum, widely seen as a means of unseating Martin who had served in some capacity since 1964.
But the move is unwelcome by some, who say nothing good comes from endless incumbency.

"I find it very offensive personally that there are efforts afoot from the Legislature to change this citizen initiated law," says Rick Bennett, a former Republican legislator who spent four terms in the Maine House and two terms in the Senate, also serving as Senate President in 2001.  "I expect that it will be rejected by the Legislature as it has in years past. And if it isn't, then certainly the voters will reject it once again in a people's veto."

One argument being made by those who disapprove of term limits, is that imposing limitations on how long a candidate can serve in a given seat, runs counter to the will of the voters.

"Yeah, we understand that we don't like entrenched incumbency," says political scientist Dan Shea, who heads the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Colby College. "But often the voters simply want to send back the legislator because she or he is doing a good job. And we're denying that opportunity."

Shea says he's examined both sides of the question, and supported the idea of term limits back in the early 90's. He has since changed his view. "I think that there's a lot of evidence to suggest that we've not got what we expected." says Shea. For example, he says observations suggest that longer-serving lawmakers do a better job distancing themselves from lobbyists. Another point, he says, is that frequent turnover may be an aggravating factor in sessions marked by gridlock and bickering.  And, he says, it's reasonable to conclude that a simple lack of experience makes for a less effective lawmaker.

But Bennett doesn't see it that way. He agrees that the Legislature has been a dysfunctional monster at times, but not because of turnover or lack of experience.

"The problem is that people under the dome seem to value legislative experience as the only sort of experience which is useful. A properly functioning citizen legislature would recognize the talent and experience of people in all walks of life," says Bennett, "The notion that somehow term limits are creating legislative dysfunction is just wrong." 

Maine is currently one of 15 states to place term limits on its legislators.

A public hearing on LD 182 is set for Monday.