THEY CALL THIS TERM LIMITS? Sen. Cecile Bledsoe is running for re-election this year and, if she wins, she'll be able to ultimately serve a total of 20 years in the legislature.

The item about a challenger to Sen. Cecile Bledsoe reminds me of a potential issue on the November ballot for which Bledsoe could be a poster child — term limits.

In 1992, voters overwhelmingly approved term limits for legislators — six years in the House or eight in the Senate.

After Republicans, who’d been prime drivers in the term limits movement, took control of the legislature, they got the urge to stay longer and make more money. So in 2014. Sen. Jon Woods grafted some legislative sweeteners onto Rep. Warwick Sabin’s so-called ethics amendment and, brother, did 53 percent of the voters get taken.

We got precious little ethics reform. Corporate contributions to individual campaigns were outlawed, but they’ve just flowed to proliferating PACs instead, some operated by the legislators themselves. They got a mechanism for a doubling of legislative pay. Between pay and liberal per diem, most of them make $60,000 or so a year, a good bit of it tax-free, for part-time work. They’ve found workarounds for the supposed bar on lobbyist wining and dining. A two-year delay in becoming a lobbyist has proved meaningless. Outgoing legislators just become “consultants” instead.

Advertisement

And, finally, term limits. The amendment upped allowable service to AT LEAST 16 years. I emphasize AT LEAST, because there’s a wrinkle pertaining to Senate service.

To account for realignment for each Census, some senators run, by draw, at certain times for two-year rather than four-year terms. Those two-year terms DO NOT COUNT against term limits.

Advertisement

So take Cecile Bledsoe. This year will complete her 16th year of service, combined, in House and Senate. But one Senate term was a two-year term. So, for purposes of term limits, she’s served only 14 years. She can run again for a four-year term and the law says she may serve the full term, for 20 years in the legislature before she’s done. Unless she loses this year. Should she lose, she’ll have plenty of state dollars to fall back on. Her husband was hired out of retirement as a $173,000-a-year physician at the state Health Department.  Her son’s also state surgeon general.

It gets worse. Sen. Jason Rapert has served TWO two-year terms that didn’t count against his service. According to calculations from the Senate, His term-limits clock didn’t start running until January 2015. If he continues to be elected and draws yet another two-year term after the 2020 Census, we could be looking at 22 years of Rapert.

Voters got hornswoggled by the “ethics” amendment. Term limits people are circulating petitions now for a revised term limits amendment that would make lawmakers term out at 10 years. Ten years of Rapert versus 22? That will be an easy call for many voters.

David Ferguson, a former Bureau of Legislative Research lawyer, spelled out the 22-year scenario and manifest other problems with the so-called ethics amendment some years ago, including fatter pay and pensions.

Advertisement

Alas, “ethics amendment” sponsor Jon Woods won’t be enjoying the full fruits of this misleading amendment (styled as a “term limits” amendment even though it loosened them.) He’s headed to prison for taking kickbacks from GIF money. He never had a real job, though he reported income from a “consulting” business. Imagine what he consulted on.