Term limits will have little effect in '06 legislative races

Thursday, July 28, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Unlike recent election cycles, term limits won't be much of a factor in next year's state legislative races.

Term limits had a major impact, particularly to the benefit of Republicans, in both 2002, when veteran incumbents first were forced out in large numbers, and 2004. With dozens of entrenched Democrats unable to seek re-election in rural districts that were voting more conservative, the GOP was able to take control of the legislature and later bolster its majorities.

However, just 11 House members and three senators are barred from running in 2006. In the previous two election cycles, more than 100 of the House's 163 members and 32 of 34 senators fell victim to term limits.

With few open seats, it will be tougher for Democrats to substantially build their numbers in the legislature. Attributing vacant seats to the party that last held them, Republicans currently have a 98-65 House advantage and a 23-11 Senate majority.

Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Jack Cardetti acknowledged that the lack of open seats will mean fewer competitive races.

"It makes it difficult to pick up large chunks of seats," Cardetti said. "You won't see the large swings you saw in recent years. Clearly the notion of picking up 15 House seats won't happen."

Democrats would need a net gain of 17 seats to regain the House and seven seats to retake the Senate.

Term limits, which voters added to the Missouri Constitution in 1992, generally restrict lawmakers to eight years of service per legislative chamber. Missouri Republican Party spokesman John Hancock said that basically means mass vacancies will occur every eight years.

"Those cycles are going to be just critical," Hancock said. "Those will be the most likely times for legislative majorities to turn."

Assuming continuous re-election of sitting incumbents, there will be 83 open House seats and 12 open Senate seats in 2010, when the wave of lawmakers swept in by term limits in 2002 will be swept out.

"Any honest assessment would say the Republican majorities are clearly solid until the 2010 cycle," Hancock said.

Of the 14 lawmakers term-limited in 2006, seven of the 11 representatives are Democrats and two of the three senators are Republicans. Most of those open districts strongly lean to the party that currently controls them.

Only two Southeast Missouri lawmakers will reach the end of their legislative tenures next year -- Republican state Reps. Peter Myers of Sikeston and Lanie Black of Charleston.

When the two were first elected in 1998, they put the first cracks in the generations-long Democratic dominance of legislative districts in the Bootheel. All but one of the area's seats today are held by Republicans.

Myers said he expects the GOP to retain both his and Black's seats but that Democrats have strong shots at claiming either or both if they field good candidates.

"Voters there are conservative, whether Republican or Democrat," Myers said. "But those districts are not a lock for Republicans."

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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