Here’s what North Dakota leaders think of term limits

The state’s foremost political leaders oppose term limits with one notable exception.

Gov. Doug Burgum at the State of the State address on Feb. 16, 2022, at the Fargo Theatre.
Chris Flynn / The Forum
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BISMARCK — North Dakotans will soon vote on whether there should be term limits imposed on their representatives in Bismarck. The state’s foremost political leaders oppose the idea with one notable exception.

After a contentious legal fight, a constitutional measure to set an eight-year cap on service by the governor and state legislators will appear on the November ballot.

Lawmakers would be able to serve up to eight years each in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The measure 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 term limits.

If the measure passes, North Dakota would join 15 other states in having term limits on legislators and 36 other states in having term limits on governors.

Where North Dakota leaders stand on term limits

Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement he fully supports term limits and has for years, though a spokesman for Burgum did not respond when asked why the Republican governor supports the measure.


“While most statewide offices aren’t included in the measure, it’s a good first step and we support it and encourage North Dakotans to give it their full consideration,” Burgum said.

Burgum, a former tech executive, has been one of the state’s most prolific political donors over the last three years through a committee called Dakota Leadership PAC, but the group’s chairman said it will not spend money or produce ads in ballot measure campaigns this election cycle.

North Dakota’s all-Republican congressional delegation would not be affected by the measure, but those who responded don't favor the idea.

“I get that (term limits) are popular, but I don’t know why in a free system like ours… we would ever want to limit our choices as free people,” said U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer in a recent radio interview.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven hinted that he disagrees with term limits, but he said it’s up to the voters.

“I think each election creates a possible term limit but respect and support whatever the voters decide,” Hoeven said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong did not respond to a request for comment.

North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Perrie Schafer told Forum News Service he personally believes the term limits measure is “ill-advised and ill-conceived,” but the North Dakota GOP has chosen not to take an official stance.


Imposing term limits would cause a shift in institutional knowledge from experienced lawmakers to bureaucrats and lobbyists, Schafer said. That would mean more power in the hands of unelected and unaccountable people, he said.

“I would rather see term limits on bureaucrats than lawmakers,” Schafer said.

Patrick Hart mug.JPG
Patrick Hart, the Democratic-NPL candidate for North Dakota state auditor. (Special to Forum News Service)

Democratic-NPL Chairman Patrick Hart said his party officially opposes the measure because it would compromise North Dakota’s ability to maintain a part-time citizen legislature.

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said the state’s election system already works because voters can decide their legislators’ future every four years and there is natural turnover as a result.

An average of 15 to 25 newly elected lawmakers enter the 141-member legislature each biennial session, but that number will rise this year to about 30, said Legislative Council Director John Bjornson.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said he’s “dead against” term limits because they would push well-intentioned, knowledgeable lawmakers off the ballot.

Some citizens have misplaced frustrations with the legislature stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the state is “in the best shape it’s ever been” under lawmakers’ stewardship, Wardner said.

Pollert and Wardner are retiring this year after more than 20 years each in the legislature.


Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, speaks at a news conference on Dec. 1, 2020, in the North Dakota Capitol.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said term limits would likely benefit Democrats electorally, but he still opposes the idea. The part-time nature of the North Dakota legislature means it takes longer to build up expertise, and term limits would create a barrier to good governance, he said.

“I feel now 10 years in, I have a firm grip of the budget,” Boschee said. “That took a lot of meetings.”

Not all state legislators oppose term limits — four House members and three senators, all Republicans, sit on the measure’s sponsoring committee, including Rep. Rick Becker, who is running for U.S. Senate as an independent conservative.

Rep. Jeff Magrum, a Hazelton Republican who will serve in the Senate next year, said term limits would open the door for new candidates with fresh ideas to make positive change in Bismarck. Right now, longtime incumbents have a massive electoral advantage that deters would-be challengers, he said.

Term limits would help prevent corruption because legislators develop relationships with bureaucrats and lobbyists the longer they stay in office, Magrum noted.

Magrum said he’s not worried about a drain on institutional knowledge since term-limited legislators would be more willing to share their expertise with incoming members.

North Dakota Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, stares down Gov. Doug Burgum as the Republican governor enters the House of Representatives chamber on Nov. 8, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

Measure chairman Jared Hendrix said term limits tackle “institutional inertia,” which he defines as the point when elected officials become more focused on maintaining the system of power than serving the public interest. Without term limits, lawmaking bodies become stagnant and imperceptive to new ideas, he said.

The political organizer from Minot said he believes voters will approve term limits in November. After that, Hendrix said people could push to put limits on the terms of other executive offices in state government.

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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