Port: Let's allow the voters to decide if they might like a different term limits regime better

A proposal before the Legislature would implement term limits that are less restrictive than what voters approved, but it would also expand them to more elected offices.

Jim Kasper
State Rep. Jim Kasper, a Republican from Fargo, has introduced an amendment to the term limits law approved by voters last year that would loosen the limits but also apply them to more elected offices.
File photo

MINOT, N.D. — One of the many reasons why legislating at the ballot box, through the initiated measure process, is a stupid way to make law is because there is no process.

Unlike what takes place in Bismarck, there are no committee hearings through which a formal and rigorous sort of debate can take place. There is no opportunity for amendment, either, when that debate reveals weaknesses.

For better or worse, we're stuck with whatever is on the ballot.

The populist scolds, who are bewilderingly enamored with this process, carry on as though any proposed amendment to what the voters approved is some affront to the very idea of democracy.

But how do we know the voters might not like a different idea better?


We don't. Not unless we ask. And Rep. Jim Kasper, a Fargo Republican, wants to ask the voters about term limits again.

His goal isn't to get rid of them, though that's the claim some are making about his efforts. They're waving around a pledge about term limits Kasper signed for the group, claiming he's violated it.

Which is a cautionary tale for state officials. Don't sign pledges. Your duty is to your constituents, not some group of well-financed activists and their mercenaries.

Anyway, Kasper's bill, House Concurrent Resolution 3019 , would expand the term limits voters approved last year. Currently, only state lawmakers, and the governor, are limited to eight years of service time. If Kasper's proposal becomes law, every other statewide elected official, except the justices of the state supreme court, would be term-limited too.

Though the limits would get longer, to 12 years instead of eight, and the clock resets after a given official spends at least four years out of office.

It's a sensible proposal, but, like all proposed amendments to our state constitution, whether they emerge from the legislature or the initiated measure process, it doesn't become law unless the voters approve it. The legislation, which has already passed the state House by a 63-29 vote , acknowledges that the voters have said they want term limits, but asks them if they might prefer a different sort of term limits.

This has ignited the fury of certain populist demagogues. Rep. Lori VanWinke, a Republican from Minot whose legislative colleagues have taken to calling "Leviticus VanWinkle" given her propensity for biblical harangues during floor speeches, called Kasper's bill "a slap in the face to the people."

That's absurd.


Secretary of State Michael Howe is asking the group to make an amended filing within 10 days.
"I'm an atheist, and even I'm shocked about the level of anti-religion antipathy this legislation has engendered."

One complicating factor is that the term limits amendment approved last year prohibits the Legislature from amending it. Critics of Kasper's bill say it's unconstitutional for this reason.

Kasper and others, including this observer, think that restriction on the legislature's ability to legislate is unconstitutional.

The courts will have to get involved.

Either way, the best public policy is the result of rigorous debate and process, things we don't get from the initiated measure process.

Kasper thinks he has an idea for term limits voters might like better. The voters should get to have a say about it.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
What To Read Next
Get Local