Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said Thursday that he wants to reform term limits — once they force him out of office in 2022.
Speaking during a legislative caucus leaders’ forum at the Mackinac Policy Conference, Shirkey surprised them with the news that he intends to pursue a ballot initiative challenging the state’s term limit law. That constitutional amendment was approved by almost 60 percent of voters in 1992 and is among the most restrictive in the country.
Currently, legislators are permitted three, two-year terms in the state House and two, four-year terms in the state Senate.
“We have natural election cycles; they’re called two and four-year election cycles,” Shirkey said at the event featuring House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) and Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint).
“And we’re going to challenge the notion and challenge the appetite of the state of Michigan and the Legislature to really evaluate whether [the term limits are] something that we think is necessary,” Shirkey said. “So there’s no middle ground here — and this is just my opinion — but you either have term limits, or you don’t.”
Top statewide executives — the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state — are limited to two, four-year terms. Shirkey didn’t specifically talk about changing that part of the law.
Political insiders — especially at the Mackinac conference — frequently rail against term limits and say the lack of experience helps contribute to political dysfunction. But the law has generally been popular with voters.
In the past, interests groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce have toyed with reforming term limits, instead of scrapping them, to make the idea more palatable to voters. One proposal has been to actually cut the number of total years legislators can serve from 14 to 12 — but stipulate that lawmakers can serve all their time in one chamber or the other so they can develop more expertise.
In 2014, when then-Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) also was facing term limits, he pushed a plan to extend them which failed to gain traction.
Speaking briefly with reporters, Shirkey said his goal would be to eliminate legislative term limits entirely, but said “all the options are under investigation right now.”
Ananich and other leaders stopped short of fully blessing Shirkey’s plan without a concrete proposal in place, but appeared supportive.
Shirkey’s surprise announcement came shortly after Chatfield, his House counterpart, shared his frustration with the state’s term limits.
“I feel like actually, half the work we do in the Legislature is fixing bills people voted on the previous year,” Chatfield said. “You’re constantly … doing fixes to what you addressed the last term. I’m going to call a spade a spade. I think this is a product of term limits.”
Chatfield noted that roughly half of this term’s state House members are freshman legislators, pointing out that in his fifth year in the lower chamber he’s just starting to feel comfortable in the role.
Shirkey says the limits have “eliminated the incentive” to make a career out of serving in Michigan politics, and he noted that anyone serving in the Legislature’s leadership could likely make more money in the private sector.
He added that while that the limits may have been attractive to voters at one time, they’ve made it more difficult to develop quality legislators.
“I think it’s time to retest that message, and we’ll see if the people of Michigan buy it or not,” Shirkey said.
Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.