If you’re an Arkansas voter, you will be asked in 2014 to vote up or down on a proposed constitutional amendment that would extend term limits for state legislators. You should expect to see the amendment take center stage in next year’s legislative primaries, as well as in the first general election of the year in January.
The proposed amendment was referred to the voters in the recent legislative session. It passed the House with 71 votes and the Senate with 23 votes (see how your legislators voted here). Besides extending term limits, the amendment also contains a slew of ethics reform measures that has made the discussion of the merits of the proposal confusing and upset many voters.
In fact, in the recent Jonesboro special-election primary, the issue of term limits was a hot topic. Conduit For Action, a Fayetteville-based educational group, made sure of it: CFA sent out a couple of mailers into Senate District 21 that educated voters about where the two Republican candidates stood. John Cooper opposed tinkering with term limits outright. In fact, he even signed U.S. Term Limits’ pledge to protect Arkansas’s existing term limits law. Cooper’s opponent in the Republican primary runoff, Dan Sullivan, supported extending term limits. Ultimately, Cooper defeated Sullivan and has now advanced to the general election.
On the Democratic side, we don’t know where the candidates stood: both candidates that made it to the runoff declined to complete the Family Council Action Committee’s candidate survey.
Now that we’ve moved into the general election, I reached out to the Democratic nominee Steve Rockwell for comment on his position on the amendment at the beginning of the week. So far, I have not received a reply. GOP nominee Cooper, however, said he remains committed in his opposition to changing term limits laws and thinks this issue will continue to play a role in the Jonesboro contest:
The voters did the right thing in 1992 when they passed term limits. I think term limits was a factor in my runoff victory — and I think term limits will become a larger factor in the future, as the attempt to weaken term limits becomes better known.”
I also spoke with Brenda Vassaur Taylor, a co-founder of CFA, about their involvement in the Jonesboro race and what role the group might play on this issue in the future:
Term limits is a very important issue to the people of Arkansas as proven by the 60% margin by which Arkansas voters passed in 1992 Amendment 73 of the Arkansas Constitution.
In 2004, our state legislature place an initiative on the ballot in an attempt to extend these term limits. That initiative was defeated by 70% of Arkansans voting. Our current legislators have done it again by placing on the ballot for November 4, 2014, another attempt to extend term limits, but this time under a referred constitutional amendment which does not mention extending term limits in its title. One has to wonder if the legislators are in hopes voters will not read the fine print — and they will get their way versus the expressed preference of Arkansas voters.
And, in case you’re wondering, the group does plan to remain active in the District 21 race, she added:
Jonesboro voters have a right to ask the person they send to the state senate whether he will support their preference or the preference of the current legislators. It is very important that we, the voting public, know the positions of our candidates we elect before we elect them.
We will inform NE Arkansas voters before the general election in January as to the views of each candidate regarding term limits.