It looks like term limits will be one of the Oklahoma Legislature's hot-button issues during the 2008 session, as two Tulsa-area lawmakers on opposite sides of the age-old debate have filed pertinent legislation.
In 1990, Oklahomans voted to limit state lawmakers to 12 years in office, which took effect in 1992.
Because the new law didn't count legislators' prior time in office against the limit, it was 2004 before its effects were seen.
So, after three years of watching the magic of term limits at work, how have they been for Oklahoma?
Well, that depends on whom you ask.
According to Owasso's Republican state Sen. Randy Brogdon, term limits have so greatly benefited the Legislature that he's introduced legislation to limit the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of Education and all other statewide elected officials to two terms.
That won't happen if state Sen. Mary Easley gets her way, though.
The Democrat from Tulsa filed legislation that would send the question back to a popular vote, which she's confident will result in a repeal of term limits.
"I've been asked by my constituents to do this. (The term limit amendment) wasn't what they thought it would be," Easley told UTW.
She also said, "There was a lot of propaganda put out as to why we needed term limits."
If she succeeds in getting it on the ballot and Oklahomans vote to reverse their collective will from 1990, it won't take effect until 2010, which would be just after her third and final term in the Senate would end.
"I decided to run this now because it wouldn't affect me in any way," she said.
Easley said her constituents wanted the repeal because term limits "have taken the privilege and the power from the people; it takes the right to decide away from them."
"My constituents are pretty intelligent and they know if their legislators are working for them. Everybody has a vote, and they can vote lawmakers out of office if they don't want them there," she added.
Not only do term limits limit the freedom of voters to keep their favorite lawmakers around as long as they want, she said, but they also result in "a government of the novice."
"It takes a lot of experience to run the state government, and I don't think we have the experience right now that's necessary," Easley continued, referencing the many career-lawmakers who've been forced to leave office in the last three years.
What's more, she said, their successors' lack of experience makes them vulnerable to special interests.
Since 2004, as green, wet-behind-the-ears senators and representatives were trying to find their way around the Capitol, Easley said "we saw that a lot of them seek advice and are swayed by people who have an opinion on certain issues."
She added, "It leaves a lot of the decision-making to lobbyists, who are entrenched there and are strong in persuasion."
Brogdon, though, thinks the opposite is the case.
As he sees it, it's under Easley's preferred system that the lobbyists have more power and influence.
"When a legislator is in office for 20 or 30 years, he develops friendships with lobbyists and he's more likely to be influenced," Brogdon said.
Newer officeholders, on the other hand, "are more apt to be free-thinkers than to 'go along to get along,'" he said.
Soon after Easley filed her resolution, Republican Floor Leader Sen. Owen Laughlin of Woodward came out swinging.
In a prepared statement, he said the experience brought by new blood in the Legislature is a different kind than what Easley said is lacking.
"Thanks to term limits, the Oklahoma Legislature has attracted new legislators who have experience in the 'real world.' There is a different mindset because the newer legislators have come here to serve for a finite time and to make a difference. They don't want to make a career out of being in the Legislature," he said.
Laughlin is currently in his final term, so the upcoming session will be his last.
The term-limited system has apparently favored Republicans so far, who took control of the House of Representatives after the Democratic Party lost the incumbent advantage in 2004, when seats opened up that had been long occupied by Democratic fixtures. Also, the Dems lost their long-time Senate majority after last year's election resulted in 24/24 split, giving Republicans an overall majority in the Legislature.
"The Legislature now has a new generation of leaders who are energetic and forward-thinking. We're considering fresh ideas and dynamic reforms that would not have seen the light of day back when the members of the 'Old Guard' dominated the Capitol," said Laughlin.
An immediate example of "fresh ideas and dynamic reforms" the lawmaker might have had in mind is the much-talked-about HB 1804, the controversial immigration reform legislation that passed this year.
Prior to the Republican ascendancy of 2006, state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, attempted to pass a similar package, but was thwarted by the 2005 session's Democrat-controlled Senate.
Also, a new law prohibiting state-funded medical facilities from performing abortions also passed this past session, albeit with difficulty.
Such a law wasn't politically possible in past legislatures, largely due to the power wielded by one man: Sen. Bernest Cain, D-Oklahoma City.
During his nearly three decades in the Legislature, Cain was celebrated by supporters and reviled by critics as a liberal demagogue. He chaired the Senate Health and Human Services Committee for 20 years, so until term limits forced him out of office in 2006, Republicans came to view the panel as a "graveyard" for pro-life legislation.
"I can't think of a single good reason to repeal term limits. If anything, we need to look for ways to expand term limits to other offices in our state," said Laughlin.
That's just what Brogdon has in mind with his proposal to limit elected officials in the executive branch to two years.
"Politicians tend to get in positions of power and they tend to stay there because the entire system is set up to favor incumbents," he said.
Currently, governors are limited to two consecutive terms, but can run again four years after leaving office.
While entrenched governors haven't been an issue during Oklahoma's 100 years of statehood, Brogdon pointed to another executive office that he thinks could stand to see some change.
"The education system really hasn't improved over the past 20 years," he said, noting that state Secretary of Education Sandy Garrett, a Democrat, is currently serving her sixth consecutive four-year term.
Brogdon also thinks U.S. lawmakers should be term-limited, and noted that the founding fathers "had absolutely no vision that anyone would come to Washington, D.C. and make a lifetime career out of it-- they thought they should be citizen statesmen for a few years and then go back home."
While the founding fathers did grapple with the question of placing limits on the number of terms elected officials could remain in office, they ultimately decided to leave it to voters to decide when a leader's time to retire would come.
George Washington, though, set the pattern for presidents by voluntarily declining to run for re-election after a second term-- a tradition that would remain in place until Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first and only president to serve three consecutive terms.
Within two years of the conclusion of FDR's reign in 1945, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment, which was ratified in 1951 and constitutionally limited presidential terms to the traditional two established by Washington.
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