Lawmakers seek term limits for executive branch

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A group of new lawmakers who are in office, at least in part, because of legislative term limits propose imposing service caps on all six statewide elected officials.

Identical measures filed in both the Senate and House of Representatives would ask Missouri voters to decide a constitutional amendment that would limit those executive branch officeholders to two four-year terms. At present, only the governor and state treasurer are so restricted.

State Rep. Brian Yates, R-Lee's Summit, said the proposal is intended to bring more uniformity to the Missouri Constitution.

"There are several loopholes where certain statewide executive officeholders are subject to term limits and some aren't," Yates said. "Why should some be exempt is our question."

As in most other states, Missouri governors historically have been term limited. Until the adoption of the current constitution in 1945, they could serve only one four-year term in a lifetime. Even then, a governor couldn't serve two consecutive terms until a constitutional change in the 1960s.

The reason the treasurer is subject to a service cap is less clear.

"The theory is the treasurer is term limited with the governor because they have control over purse," said Chuck Miller, chief of staff to State Treasurer Nancy Farmer.

Under the current proposal, limits would also apply to the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state auditor.

Yates and the five other House sponsors of the measure are part of the massive, 90-member freshman class in the lower chamber. Sweeping turnover in the legislative ranks took place this year because term-limits of eight years per chamber, which voters overwhelming approved in 1992, finally took full effect.

The impetus behind legislative term limits was the notion that the General Assembly had become dominated by career incumbents who stayed for decades.

Lifetime tenure examined

However, that level of lifetime tenure hasn't been the case in the executive branch. Since statehood in 1821, only 16 statewide officeholders have held the same job for more than eight years. That group includes James Monroe Siebert of Cape Girardeau, who was state auditor from 1889 to 1901. Siebert also served as state treasurer from 1885 to 1889.

Democrat James C. Kirkpatrick holds the record for tenure in the same executive branch office, serving 20 years as secretary of state from 1965 to 1985.

Attorney General Jay Nixon is the only incumbent statewide elected official to serve more than eight years. The Democrat is midway through his third term and intends to seek a fourth in 2004.

If the current measure clears the legislature it wouldn't affect Nixon's re-election effort as it would go before voters on the same ballot.

State Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, said the proposal, which he is sponsoring in the upper chamber, doesn't target Nixon or any other individual. Bartle served four years in the House and moved to the Senate this year after term limits created an open seat.

The effect of term limits on the legislature, Bartle said, has been to bring in new people with fresh ideas, something the executive branch could stand as well.

"We are seeing some changes in government that are fundamental, and I'd say that is desirable," Bartle said.

Another House sponsor, state Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, said the public deserves the chance to consider the issue.

"Missouri voters spoke clearly when they voted for legislative term limits, but were not given the opportunity to vote on term limits for executive branch offices," Pratt said.

The measures are HJR 6 and SJR 8.

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