Idaho now has term limits for all state and local elected officials - but not for U.S. senators or congressmen.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday that tossed out state limits on congressional terms left intact the rest of an initiative Idaho voters approved in November. That initiative, favored by nearly 60 percent of the voters, limited terms for everyone from U.S. senators down to local school board members.
“Now that the court has struck down the application to Congress, I think what we have now is worthless to Idaho,” Gov. Phil Batt said Monday. “While I don’t plan any immediate action, I’m certainly not going to be any advocate of keeping it.”
“Locals are left holding the bag,” said Dan Chadwick, head of the Idaho Association of Counties. “State and local office-holders got caught up in a move to limit terms at the federal level. That was the real focus of the term limits initiative.”
Even U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, an ardent supporter of term limits, said she thought the voters’ message was aimed at the federal level.
“Now that that’s been taken away, it certainly puts a different perspective on it,” she said. “I think the Legislature or the people ought to take another look at it.”
Both Chenoweth and Idaho’s two Republican U.S. senators, Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne, support nationwide term limits for senators and congressmen.
Craig said Monday that he is already pushing for a Senate vote on a constitutional amendment to accomplish that. The measure would limit both senators and congressmen to 12 years in office. “We believe we will get a vote in the Senate in late June or early July,” Craig said.
Chenoweth said she won’t serve more than six years. “I believe that after six years, a person gets too closely attached to Washington, D.C.”
Former House Speaker Tom Foley, who was narrowly defeated last November by Republican George Nethercutt, was not surprised by Monday’s court ruling.
“I thought this is what the court would do,” said Foley, who campaigned against the initiative in 1992 and joined a lawsuit challenging it in 1993.
His part in the lawsuit was a key issue in the 1994 election.
Term limits supporters made it clear Monday they will still trumpet Foley’s defeat as they look for support for a constitutional amendment for congressional term limits.
Platt Thompson of United We Stand America, a group that worked for the Idaho initiative’s passage, said Monday that he thought Idahoans wanted term limits on all elected officials, “top to bottom.”
“Certainly the major thrust of it was the federal level, but people I talked to all over the state would talk about the governor and state legislators, too,” Thompson said.
Beau Parent, head of Idahoans for Term Limits, the group that spent more than $78,000 in mostly out-of-state money to get the initiative on the ballot, told The Associated Press his group will push state legislators to require that the 1996 ballot include a statement next to each congressional candidate’s name, saying the candidate either supports or opposes term limits.
Chadwick said he hopes the Legislature will look at changing the local term limits law. Nine counties voted against the measure, he said. He favors allowing each city or county’s voters to decide locally whether they want limits on their officials’ terms.
Batt said, “When the term limits thing came along, I signed on. Then I got looking a little later and decided I made a mistake, because it was talking about school boards and mayors and all that when I thought the only real problem was in Congress.”
The governor said he expected “a very lively public discussion of this, and perhaps a consensus will develop that we shouldn’t keep it on our books.”