GOP leaders, anti-gerrymandering group meet on expanding term limits

The Michigan Capitol. On the left, the Boji Tower, the tallest structure in the city. | iStockphoto

A group of Republican leaders, business groups and activists that took on gerrymandering in Michigan have held recent talks aimed at tackling term limits and broader government reform.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) are working with Voters Not Politicians (VNP) and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to try and reform Michigan’s strictest-in-the-nation term limits. VNP has historically been at odds with those stakeholders due to their opposition to redistricting reform under Proposal 2, which voters passed in 2018.

News of the talks was first reported Tuesday afternoon by MIRS.

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Legislators in Michigan are currently permitted three, two-year terms in the state House – the strictest term limit in the United States for either chamber. Michigan and eight other states share the record of strictest Senate term limit with two, four-year terms.

It’s unclear if changing term-limit laws for executive branch positions — governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and attorney general — have been discussed. All are presently held by Democrats, while the Legislature is controlled by Republicans.

Whitmer and legislative leaders
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield at the auto insurance reform bill signing, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Few details were immediately clear, but Chatfield said in a statement that the burgeoning coalition is “working together in a bipartisan way,” and that the work is part of a broader effort to improve Michigan’s notoriously murky government.

“The people of Michigan are demanding greater accountability and transparency from their state government,” Chatfield said. “We are listening to them and delivering results.”

Shirkey first expressed a desire to reform legislative term limits in May at the Mackinac Policy Conference, where he announced his intentions to pursue a ballot initiative that would challenge current law. Shirkey’s term is set to expire in 2022.

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“The Majority Leader’s interest in changing term limits is well known,” said Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann. “VNP has also expressed interest in the issue and the Majority Leader has met and talked with the group. He is willing to talk about changes to term limits with any interested party.”

Shirkey, Chatfield and the chamber have all opposed the redistricting reform led by Voters Not Politicians.

There are at least two lawsuits by a wide array of GOP officials still pending over the redistricting commission, which is scheduled to undertake redrawing maps ahead of the 2022 elections. 

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Lonnie Scott

That opposition to VNP’s past ballot victory brings a moment of pause to Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, a progressive group trying to launch its own state government reform campaign.

“I understand working in coalition with folks that you may not agree with, but I also understand that the Republicans that they’re working with have never operated in good faith,” Scott told the Advance on Tuesday afternoon.

A spokeswoman for Voters Not Politicians declined to comment on Scott’s statement, but the group’s director said the new coalition is in line with its mission. 

Executive Director Nancy Wang said the group is “committed to advancing reforms that will make our government more transparent and accountable to the people,” noting that it’s looking at ending the revolving door, reform of term limits and other ethics and transparency reforms. 

“We have spoken with many groups, including some lawmakers, who could move these reforms forward, and we will consider taking them to the ballot should that be necessary,” Wang said in a statement.

Nick Manes
Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.
Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, civil rights, health care/safety net and criminal justice. She is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or listening to podcasts, she loves art and design, discovering new music, being out in nature and spending time with her two very special cats.

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