Jerry Kopel


Term limits

The Colorado legislature is subject to term limits under a constitutional amendment passed in 1990. House and Senate members are limited to eight consecutive years in office.

When the House Democrats met in caucus in November of 1990, everyone was in good spirits until I said:

"Look at the person to your left and to your right. None of you will be here in the Democratic caucus in November of 1998." And none of them were.

What's the major impact of term limits? Loss of experience, mostly in the House. Of the 27 legislators who were term limited in 1998, five from the House ran for and were elected to the senate, and one senator who went to the House will resign to run the Dept. of Agriculture.

When the House reconvened in January, only one member had served before 1993. Brad Young, who was elected in 1990, lost a primary in 1992 when he was put in a district with another Republican legislator. He returned to the House after that other legislator died in office several years ago.

There are one hundred legislators in Colorado, 65 in the House and 35 in the Senate. When I entered the legislature in 1965, more than half of the House had never served one day in the legislature. But  we had experienced legislators to guide the new members with some historical perspective and with a decade or more of experience.

I keep hearing about how the only way you open up the legislature to new blood is through term limits. So I decided to see if that was true.

I went to the 1991 roster to discover which legislators were no longer around even though they could have technically stayed through 1998 under the term limit law. Then I checked the 1993, 1995, and 1997 rosters.

A few had died in office, some had run for other offices, but the vast majority had simply decided enough was enough. Between 1991 through 1998, 81 legislators left the legislature, 55 in the House and 26 in the Senate.

With 100 legislators and an eight year term limit, we should see an average of 25 removed from office every two years. But without term limits, during the past eight years, an average of 20 legislators have been removed every two years.

When House members move to the Senate that should guarantee some experienced senators through the year 2006. But the lack of experience is bad news for House members and good news for lobbyists.

There are no term limits for lobbyists. At least 30 are former legislators with a wealth of experience. And at least another 30 have been lobbyists in Colorado for 20 or more years. Lobbyists will be more than happy to provide information to inexperienced House members.

Often in a House committee, when the good and bad points of a bill are discussed, some experienced House member of the committee will say "we had that same bill before the committee 10 years ago, and here is one of the problems that resulted in its defeat."

That sort of response is no longer possible. And you can't run to the Senate to find someone who was around in 1989 if you don't know there was a problem in 1989.

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Copyright 2015 Jerry Kopel & David Kopel