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Tim Kiska: The ‘Mandatory Inexperience’ Law

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By Tim Kiska

A first-term state legislator says Michigan’s term limits law might be better characterized as the “mandatory inexperience” law. And he wants to do something about it.

State Representative Rick Olson (R-Saline) is taking a proposal around the state house in the next week. His idea: put an end to the current system, which limits state Reps to three two-year terms, and state Senators to two four-year terms.

Olson would replace it with something else, maybe giving a lawmaker a total of 14 years in Lansing. Maybe seven two-year terms in the state House. He isn’t married to a specific formula.

He just wants mandatory term limits changed, arguing that the problems facing Michigan are too complicated to leave to amateurs.

“I know many people think the problems facing the state are simple, and we can fix everything with simple solutions,” Olson says. “But that’s not true.”

Olson, a first-term rep and Stanford Law School grad, uses himself as an example. He specializes in transportation finance – a relatively arcane but important part of what state government does. Olson says it’s a major effort to master that topic.

“And that’s only one area,” Olson says. He wonders aloud how his colleagues—however intelligent they may be – can possibly master other arcane areas of the state’s business.

The answer may be: They can’t.

A group of Wayne State political scientists, led by Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson and Lyke Thompson, studied the topic of term limits. “The Political And Institutional Effects of Term Limits,” dealt with the topic at length. They found a state legislature full of people looking out for the next job; a reduced watchdog effort over state government; a stronger governor’s office, and lobbyists with an increasingly powerful hand.

Olson understands that his efforts are only the beginning of a long process. The state House and state Senate would have to approve it by a two-thirds margin for it to go anywhere. And the voters would have to weigh in.

The next question becomes: Who signs up as co-sponsors. And how will the parties react?

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