“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!” – Samuel Adams

Legislative term limits: Will they become a thing of the past in South Dakota?

By Gordon Garnos

AT ISSUE: South Dakota’s legislators during the last session passed a resolution to end term limits on themselves. The proposal would be to eliminate that part of the amendment from the state’s Constitution in the November General Election. Voters in 1992 by a 63.5 percent passed the initiated measure to put term limits on both our legislators and our state’s constitutional officers. This legislative session’s proposal does not include removing the constitutional officers from term limits.

THE QUESTION IS should members of the South Dakota Legislature be term limited? Basically, that is one of the several questions voters in the state will get to decide come the November General Election.

In 1992 South Dakota’s voters put in eight-year term limits (four two-year
terms) for our legislators. We also put the eight-year cap on our six constitutional officers. That includes the office of lieutenant governor.

This means our constitutional officers each could serve a maximum of two four year terms. The office of governor was term limited in 1972 to a max of two four-year terms.

Now, if I was a constitutional officer in South Dakota, I would be miffed at the legislators trying to get their term limits lifted and forgetting us constitutional officers who are still on the hook to serve only eight years in office. In fact, I would be d*** mad at the legislative body for forgetting to take us off the term limit thing as well. We all went on it at the same time.

Now, if I were a legislator I would respond to that by saying that while we may have forgotten about you guys, we tried to add an amendment to that resolution to get you out of term limits as well, but it got killed in the Senate.

NOW IF I WERE that same constitutional officer I would probably retort that since all bills have to be approved by both houses, you people in the House are just as guilty for not getting us out of term limits as well.

Now, if I were a columnist for several weekly newspapers in the state I would have to say to our legislators, try as you might to get the yoke of term limits lifted from your shoulders, it ain’t likely to happen. Past sessions of the Legislature have had poor luck in trying to convince the people that the proposals from Pierre to change the state’s Constitution were the thing to do. Don’t forget, the idea to put term limits in effect came from the people through the initiative process and if the people want to withdraw them let it be from the people as well.

ACCORDING TO a spokesman for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) the 1990s was the season for states to implement term limits on the state officials, but now “the flame has gone out” in some states and the reversal is taking place.

Well, if the polls in that newspaper in that town near Harrisburg are any where near correct. That fire he spoke about has not gone out in South Dakota. I am speaking about that question that appeared in that newspaper April 12. “Should term limits force South Dakota state legislators out after four two-year terms?” I bet for our legislators, the response had to be staggering. There was 75.4 percent voting “Yes” and 24.6 percent voting “No.”

Now, if I were a betting man I would have to say some where near that three to one odds against repealing legislative term limits just might carry across the state come the November election.

THE REPORT FROM the NCSL stated that almost all of the term limit restrictions were passed by states that give residents power to initiate laws. In many states voters do not have that power.

A few tidbits here from that paper in that town near Harrisburg: “South Dakota is one of 15 states that have term limits on their legislators. Six states that once passed such limits have since removed them. Six of the remaining term-limit states have a lifetime restriction. The other nine, including South Dakota, let a lawmaker serve to term, then take a break or switch chambers.”

As the editor of a daily newspaper back in 1991-92 I well remember the campaigns both for and against term limits. I editorially supported term limits at the time. The big argument for the opponents of term limits sang the song that term limits cause the loss of “historical prospective.”

However, loss of historical prospective should give way to new and positive change and while I lost my head several columns ago and endorsed the repeal of term limits, I am once again back on solid ground opposing the proposed repeal. The fire isn’t out as far as I am concerned….

Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion and recently retired after 39 years with that newspaper. Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.


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