GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan’s term limits are causing government to be less effective, a new federal lawsuit claims, and unfairly banning term-limited legislators from running again.
High-profile attorney John Bursch, who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, is filing the case in the U.S. District Court Western District of Michigan on behalf of eight former lawmakers, including Democrat Mary Valentine of Norton Shores and Republican Joe Haveman of Holland.
The suit argues the term limits eliminate them from consideration for the state Legislature despite valuable experience. The five Democrats and three Republicans are asking the court to throw out rules voted into existence in 1992.
Those limits forced the turnover of more than two thirds of state Senate seats last year. That kind of turnover is hard on the legislative process, Bursch said.
“This has been a multiyear conversation between key members in the Republican and Democrat movement,” Bursch said. “What everybody agrees on is that something is seriously wrong with the political system in Lansing.”
If the court does strike down the term limits, it would be left up to the Legislature and governor to decide if they should be replaced with modified limits or none at all.
Bursch admits that polling still shows term limits are popular.
“When we instituted the term limits, one of the main drivers, in addition to those folks who were there a really, really long time, was to make a better Michigan government,” he said. “And I’m not sure, I couldn’t tell you what the right number, what the right system is that will get us to the magic place where Michigan government is better — but this broad coalition, this spectrum of Democrats and Republicans, agree that what we have in place now did not accomplish that goal.”
Bursch said that despite public approval, those who work closely with state government see real flaws in the current term limits creating a constant churn in the capitol. He thinks many people don’t see that up close or factor it in.
“I think there’s a strong body knowledge in Lansing about the problems caused to an effective government, good Michigan government, but we need to get that message out to more people and I think this lawsuit and some of the publicity around it will do that,” he said.
In addition to Valentine and Haveman, the case is being filed on behalf of former Republican legislators Roger Kahn from Saginaw and Paul Opsommer from the Lansing and Democrats Scott Dianda from the U.P., Clark Harder of Owosso, Detroit’s David Nathan and Doug Spade from Adrian.