Jerry Kopel

Term Limits 2008

By Jerry Kopel

July 6, 2008

The reason for having "Term Limits" for legislators? It's a myth.

The number of legislators who left office every two years or less was almost as large in the years before an eight year limit on service by a house and senate member was triggered in 1998.

There were 24 senators and representatives listed in a recent Denver Post article as "leaving". Bite your tongue, Denver Post!

Three of the term limited House members are running for the State Senate. One House member, Rep, Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, who is not term limited, is also running for and will almost certainly win a Senate seat.

Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins, is running for county commissioner. If he loses, he still has two more years to serve as a state senator. State Sen. Steve Ward , R-Littleton, entered the Senate in 2007 and if he loses his race for Congress, has two more years left to serve.

So, instead of 24, there is a possible loss of only 18 members, if other incumbents running for the legislature win.

Term limit supporters claim it's necessary to limit terms so legislators don't overstay. To see if people leave on their own, or because of election defeats or death, I went to the 1989 roster. The term limit constitutional amendment was adopted in 1990 to trigger removals after 1998.

I wanted to see how many legislative turnovers occurred over an eight year period without a term limit measure in law. Not included as having left were legislators who moved from the house to the senate or from the senate to the house.

Please see the accompanying chart. The total gone was 90, starting from January 1989 up to but not including the start of the January 1997 session. There were 32 senators, 17 Republicans and 15 Democrats. In the House, 58 representatives did not stick around. There were 28 Republicans and 30 Democrats.

All were gone, WITHOUT term limits forcing them out. Several did die in office and a number were defeated in elections.

We lost an average of 22 - 23 legislators every two years WITHOUT term limits being involved.

There are 25 members of the 2008 House who have served two years or less, and are presently seeking re-election, 12 Democrats and 13 Republicans. They total less than 49 years of experience.

Can anyone really match that total for 25 members against the 62 years of experience lost with the term limit removal of four senators, Ken Gordon, D-Denver, Bob Hagedorn, D-Arapahoe, Andrew McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, and Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs?

The Rocky Mountain News in a recent editorial, pointed out that the so-called present "fresh personality" legislators made it to the legislature because predecessors were term limited; the political careerists were thinned out.

The turnover chart accompanying this column provides the hard evidence the RMN asked for, to show term limits were not needed.

Since leaving the legislature in 1992 (I was one of the 90) I have often watched House committees deal with the pros and cons of a bill. Before term limits, an experienced House member could comment "We had this bill before us 10 years ago, and one of the problems which resulted in its defeat was ..."

That is no longer possible. You can't run to the Senate and hope to find someone around in 2009 who was in the House in 1999 if you don't KNOW there was a problem in 1999.

Lobbyists are not term limited and are always available to provide a "spin".

Why did I declare 22 years was enough in 1992, when I could have remained another six years, assuming I won re-election? After all, I fit the profile of a "political careerist".

In my last door-to-door campaign, as in previous ones, I carried note pads which I left when no one was home. I would write "sorry to have missed you" on each note pad.

On one such trip, I glanced at what I had written....almost automatically: "Sorry to have met you".


Persons leaving the legislature over an eight year period without term limits. We start at 100 percent with those who were there in January 1989 and 1990, but gone in 1991, down to those present in the 1996 session, and gone before the 1997 session began.

No longer in the legislature  House Senate  Cumulative Total
1991-92 5 Dem. 7 Rep. 1 Dem. 5 Rep. 18
1993-94 7 Dem. 10 Rep. 2 Dem. 6 Rep 43
1995-96 10 Dem. 4 Rep. 6 Dem. 5 Rep 68
Jan. 1997 8 Dem. 7 Rep. 6 Dem. 1 Rep. 90


(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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