BOSTON — MASSACHUSETTS Republicans are spearheading an effort to limit the number of consecutive terms elected officials can serve in the Bay State. State GOP politicians, including newly elected Gov. William Weld, believe public confidence in government must be restored by getting rid of so-called ``career politicians.''
Their campaign, organized as a nonpartisan coalition called LIMITS, is proposing restrictions for officeholders at the state and federal level. The proposal would limit state legislators to four two-year terms, state constitutional office holders to two four-year terms, United States representatives to six two-year terms, and US senators to two six-year terms.
``This issue goes beyond parties and ideology. It goes to the core of whether we can sustain our democracy,''said James Rappaport, former GOP senatorial candidate, at a press conference last week. ``We have formed LIMITS because we believe our democracy needs a wide variety of voices, of new ideas, and of new candidates.''
Mr. Rappaport lost to incumbent US Sen. John Kerry (D) last November.
Massachusetts Republicans recently have made significant gains in this historically Democratic state. A budget crisis prompted voters to turn some powerful Democratic incumbents out of office last November, and Gov. Michael Dukakis decided not to run for reelection. But despite the anti-incumbent fervor last fall, most long-time office holders were reelected - 119 out of 127 incumbent state representatives and 26 of 32 incumbent state senators, according to the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office.
``It is true that many politicians were swept out of office in ... last year's election,'' said Governor Weld, adding that a state should not need a widespread crisis of confidence to force change.
Term limits elsewhere
Colorado, Oklahoma, and California passed term-limitation laws last year. Colorado's sweeping measure limits terms for officeholders at the federal level as well as the state level. In all, 37 states have introduced term-limitation legislation, says Nancy Rhyme, senior policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Some states, like Colorado and Massachusetts, turned to the initiative process after unsuccessful attempts to introduce legislation. Washington and Ohio are pursuing ballot questions on the issue. Proposals vary with each state; some limit just consecutive terms, while others limit the total number of terms an officeholder can serve.
Political analysts say the trend indicates an overall public dissatisfaction with government.
``Limiting terms of elected officials is really an effort at venting anger at elected officials,'' says Martin Linsky, public policy lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. ``This is a period when there is a lot of anger out there, driven particularly by the economy.''
Frustration is high in New England where the once-booming economy has given way to a regional recession and near double-digit unemployment, Mr. Linsky adds.
Advantages and freedoms
Term-limitation supporters say incumbents have advantages over non-incumbent challengers in elections. Incumbents have easier access to the news media, free travel, and government-paid staffs. Last November, 96 percent of incumbent US congressmen were reelected. This makes it difficult for the average citizen to start up a campaign for political office, say term limitation supporters.
Critics say term limitations take away voters' freedom of choice in elections. They also argue that long-time officeholders are more experienced and therefore better suited for the job.
``The reason Americans reelect most of their legislators and congressmen is that they believe that they have performed well - or at least they'll perform better than their challengers,'' wrote Bay State Representative Richard Moore in a letter to the chairman of the state Joint Legislative Committee on Election Laws.
The term-limit campaign here in Massachusetts, which will go through the initiative petition process, is a long procedure. For the measure to become a constitutional amendment, LIMITS supporters must first gather 70,286 certified petition signatures. The measure must then be approved by two consecutive state constitutional conventions in 1992 and 1994 before it can appear as a ballot question in 1994.