January 9, 1998 in Nation/World

High Court Throws Out Term Limits Rules It Would Require Constitutional Amendment

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Some of the state’s most powerful legislators no longer face a forced exit from office this year.

Voters didn’t have the power to limit their politicians’ time in office through a 1992 initiative, the Washington Supreme Court said Thursday.

Term limits on the governor, lieutenant governor and state legislators require a constitutional amendment, a divided court said.

“Whether this court thinks such choice wise, or results in the best or most effective state constitutional officers, is of no consequence,” Justice Phil Talmadge wrote for the majority.

“Initiative 573 did not and cannot add qualifications” to the constitution.

He was joined by Justices Barbara Durham, James Dolliver, Richard Guy, Charles Johnson and Barbara Madsen.

In a pointed dissent, Justice Richard Sanders said the majority of the court was misreading the constitution.

“If anything, the very nature of our constitution is to limit government,” Sanders wrote in an opinion signed by Justice Gerry Alexander. Term limits are “a restraint on career politicians and serve as an indirect further check on the legislative branch.”

Sherry Bockwinkel, manager of the 1992 campaign that gathered the signatures and passed I-573, called the decision “a real blow.”

“More than a million voters spoke in 1992 in this state. Six votes on the court overturned that,” she said.

The 6-2 ruling is certain to set off a flurry of new term limit proposals in the upcoming legislative session.

Less than three hours after the court released its opinion, House Speaker Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, promised the Legislature would try to pass an amendment that could be sent to the voters in November.

“We owe it to the citizens to take a look at possible legislative proposals that would fix the constitutional problems” outlined in the decision, Ballard said.

Ballard - one of 29 House members who would have been barred from this year’s ballot as the first limits of the initiative took hold - said this week he favors an amendment with longer terms of service for members of each house.

Initiative 573 limited state representatives to three two-year terms, and senators to two four-year terms. The most any legislator could have served was a total of 14 years.

Ballard and Minority Leader Marlin Applewick, D-Seattle, said they would propose an amendment with a limit of 12 years’ service in the Legislature. Those years could be served in a single chamber, or split between the two houses.

“Twelve years gives adequate time (for a legislator) to learn the system,” Ballard said. “You’ll still have a big turnover.”

Applewick believes that allowing a legislator to serve the entire period in the House would discourage representatives who are nearing their limit from challenging incumbent senators.

Neither Applewick nor Ballard is a fan of term limits, but both recognize the political support the initiative had six years ago when Washington and 19 other states voted in some form of limitation on their politicians.

Initiative 573 wasn’t an absolute bar to re-election. Instead, it said incumbents who served a set number of years could not have their names on the ballot. Term limits groups argued that they could still run write-in campaigns and win re-election, if they are popular enough with voters.

The initiative’s limits on members of Congress were already ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Like the federal court, the state’s highest court brushed aside the suggestion that the initiative was merely a change in ballot access, which the Legislature controls.

It is, in fact, a new set of limits on who can run for office, the court said.

Those restrictions can only be set by a constitutional amendment, the majority ruled.

An amendment must first pass each house of the Legislature by a two-thirds majority, then pass by a simple majority in a general state election.

An initiative goes straight to the voters. That bypasses the Legislature, where members would have to vote overwhelmingly to limit their own terms.

Whether the voters will support term limits again is unclear. They turned down an initiative in 1996 that would have punished members of Congress who didn’t support federal term limits.

“Term limits was a popular issue for a moment,” said Rep. Dave Schmidt, chairman of the House Government Operations Committee which will hold hearings on any term limit proposals. “Voters are beginning to realize that they’ve also jeopardized themselves.”

Several variations on term limits may surface during the upcoming session, Schmidt said.

There may be an effort simply to rewrite the initiative as an amendment. Other legislators have suggested a minor change that would give House members four terms, making their eight-year total equal to the time allowed for members of the Senate, the governor and lieutenant governor.

There are also some suggestions that all statewide offices, including members of the Supreme Court, should be given limited terms, Schmidt said.

Bockwinkel, who now works as a political consultant, said she could support a change to 12 years for members of the state House if that was the extent of their legislative service.

“The people that are causing the greatest deal of harm are usually in more than 12 years,” she said.

In light of Thursday’s decision, term limits for judges should definitely be considered, Bockwinkel added.

In striking down the initiative, the high court echoed a criticism that opponents of term limits used in the 1992 campaign: “With or without Initiative 573, the people retain the ultimate power to limit election of incumbents: by the reasoned and determined exercise of their franchise, they may in their discretion evict incumbents from office at the next election.”

Bockwinkel said term limits supporters should do just that the next time the six justices who signed the majority opinion are on the ballot.

, DataTimes MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story:

1. The decision

The complete text of the Washington Supreme Court’s decision overturning state term limits, and the dissenting opinion, are available on The Spokesman-Review’s Web site, at www.virtuallynw.com.

2. The beneficiaries

Here are the state House members and their top assignments who can seek re-election because the state Supreme Court struck down the term limits initiative:

Larry Sheahan, R-Spokane, chairman Law and Justice Committee.

Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, chairman Joint Administrative Rules Review Committee.

Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, House speaker, chairman Rules Committee.

Gary Chandler, R-Moses Lake, chairman Agriculture and Ecology Committee.

Barb Lisk, R-Zillah, majority leader.

Dave Mastin, R-Walla Walla, chairman Salmon Recovery Task Force.

Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, minority caucus chairman.

Don Carlson, R-Vancouver, chairman Higher Education Committee.

Val Ogden, D-Vancouver, ranking minority member Capital Budget Committee.

Brian Thomas, R-Lake Kathleen, chairman Finance Committee.

Phil Dyer, R-Issaquah, chairman Health Care Committee.

Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor, chairman Capital Budget Committee.

Velma Veloria, D-Seattle, ranking minority member Trade and Economic Development Committee.

Sandra Romero, D-Olympia, ranking minority member Government Reform and Land Use Committee.

Cathy Wolfe, D-Olympia, ranking minority member Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee.

Karen Schmidt, R-Bainbridge Island, chairwoman Transportation Policy and Budget Committee.

Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, minority whip.

Ruth Fisher, D-Tacoma, ranking minority member Transportation Policy and Budget Committee.

Gigi Talcott, R-University Place, majority whip.

Grace Cole, D-Shoreline, ranking minority member Education Committee.

Tim Sheldon, D-Hoodsport, assistant ranking minority member Trade and Economic Development Committee.

Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, ranking minority member Appropriations Committee.

Patricia Scott, D-Everett, ranking minority member, Government Operations Committee.

Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, ranking minority member Criminal Justice Committee.

Ida Ballasiotes, R-Mercer Island, chairwoman Criminal Justice Committee.

Marlin Applewick, D-Seattle, minority leader.

Suzette Cooke, R-Kent, chairwoman Children and Family Services Committee.

Bill Reams, R-Bellevue, chairman Government Reform and Land Use Committee.

Steve Van Luven, R-Bellevue, chairman Trade and Economic Development Committee.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. The decision The complete text of the Washington Supreme Court’s decision overturning state term limits, and the dissenting opinion, are available on The Spokesman-Review’s Web site, at www.virtuallynw.com.

2. The beneficiaries Here are the state House members and their top assignments who can seek re-election because the state Supreme Court struck down the term limits initiative: Larry Sheahan, R-Spokane, chairman Law and Justice Committee. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, chairman Joint Administrative Rules Review Committee. Clyde Ballard, R-East Wenatchee, House speaker, chairman Rules Committee. Gary Chandler, R-Moses Lake, chairman Agriculture and Ecology Committee. Barb Lisk, R-Zillah, majority leader. Dave Mastin, R-Walla Walla, chairman Salmon Recovery Task Force. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, minority caucus chairman. Don Carlson, R-Vancouver, chairman Higher Education Committee. Val Ogden, D-Vancouver, ranking minority member Capital Budget Committee. Brian Thomas, R-Lake Kathleen, chairman Finance Committee. Phil Dyer, R-Issaquah, chairman Health Care Committee. Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor, chairman Capital Budget Committee. Velma Veloria, D-Seattle, ranking minority member Trade and Economic Development Committee. Sandra Romero, D-Olympia, ranking minority member Government Reform and Land Use Committee. Cathy Wolfe, D-Olympia, ranking minority member Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. Karen Schmidt, R-Bainbridge Island, chairwoman Transportation Policy and Budget Committee. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, minority whip. Ruth Fisher, D-Tacoma, ranking minority member Transportation Policy and Budget Committee. Gigi Talcott, R-University Place, majority whip. Grace Cole, D-Shoreline, ranking minority member Education Committee. Tim Sheldon, D-Hoodsport, assistant ranking minority member Trade and Economic Development Committee. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, ranking minority member Appropriations Committee. Patricia Scott, D-Everett, ranking minority member, Government Operations Committee. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, ranking minority member Criminal Justice Committee. Ida Ballasiotes, R-Mercer Island, chairwoman Criminal Justice Committee. Marlin Applewick, D-Seattle, minority leader. Suzette Cooke, R-Kent, chairwoman Children and Family Services Committee. Bill Reams, R-Bellevue, chairman Government Reform and Land Use Committee. Steve Van Luven, R-Bellevue, chairman Trade and Economic Development Committee.

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