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Term-limit advocates turn in signatures to get measure on North Dakota ballot

Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Tuesday, Feb. 15, that the measure's sponsoring committee turned in what it says are about 46,000 signatures in support of putting the term limits question to voters. If Jaeger's office deems at least 31,164 signatures came from qualified North Dakota residents, the measure will be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot.

North Dakota Capitol
North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck.
Forum News Service file photo
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BISMARCK — A group of conservative activists and lawmakers trying to set term limits on North Dakota legislators and governors has taken a step toward getting its measure to appear on the November ballot.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger announced Tuesday, Feb. 15, that the measure's sponsoring committee turned in what it says are about 46,000 signatures in support of putting the term-limits question to voters. If Jaeger's office deems at least 31,164 signatures came from qualified North Dakota residents, the measure will be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The constitutional measure would set an eight-year cap on service by the governor and state legislators, though lawmakers could serve up to eight years each in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The petition also includes a grandfather clause for anyone currently serving in state government, so the clock wouldn't start ticking on their tenures until after voters approve the term limits. A provision in the petition would prohibit the Legislature from proposing a constitutional amendment to eliminate the term limits.

Supporters of the measure say term limits would inject fresh blood and new ideas into government and mitigate incentives for lawmakers to cater to establishment politicians in hopes of moving up the power structure.

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The proposal's detractors say eliminating tenured lawmakers' institutional memory allows bureaucrats and lobbyists to assert more control. Critics also argue elections already give voters the chance to limit the number of terms served by elected officials.

Fargo Senator Tim Mathern, who has been in the legislature for 35 years, says that term limits are unnecessary.

"We already have term limits. It's called the ballot box," Mathern said.

Speaker of the House Kim Koppelman — who is against term limits — says his research shows North Dakota averages about a 30% turnover in the legislature every two years.

"The problem in North Dakota is sometimes finding good people to serve rather than being there too long," Koppelman said.

The petition's sponsoring committee led by District 38 GOP Chairman Jared Hendrix, of Minot, includes a handful of state lawmakers: Reps. Rick Becker, Jeff Magrum, Tom Kading, Nathan Toman and Jeff Hoverson and Sens. Oley Larsen and Jason Heitkamp. Most of the legislators align with the far-right Bastiat Caucus, an unofficial collection of lawmakers that does not disclose its membership.

Fifteen states , including South Dakota and Montana, have active term limits on legislators, and six states have repealed term limits or had them overturned in court, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. No states have passed new term-limit requirements since Nebraska in 2000.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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