By Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK — A leader in the drive for term limits for state elected officials more than 20 years ago will head a new grassroots effort to preserve them in 2014.
On Wednesday, Tim Jacob announced the formation of Arkansas Term Limits, a legislative question committee organized to oppose House Joint Resolution 1009, referred by the Legislature to the November general election ballot. The multi-faceted proposed constitutional amendment would, among other things, add two years to the limit legislators may serve.
Currently, lawmakers are limited to a total of 14 years — three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate. HJR1009 would allow legislators to serve a total of 16 years in any combination.
Jacob, the chairman of Arkansas Term Limits, participated in the successful 1992 campaign to limit the terms of legislators and limit state constitutional officers to two four-year terms. He led a campaign in 2004 to defeat a legislative effort to expand term limits.
The term limits expansion proposed this year is part of a wide-ranging measure that also would ban corporate and union contributions to political campaigns; ban gifts to elected officials, with a number of exceptions; increase the "cooling-off" period between when a lawmaker leaves office and is permitted to start lobbying from one year to two years; and create a citizens commission to set the salaries of legislators, constitutional officers and judges.
The measure’s title does not mention term limits; its text refers to "establishing term limits," which Jacob said deceives Arkansans who are not aware the state already has them.
"We are asking that this tricky anti-term limits amendment be taken out of the so-called ethics amendment," he said in a statement announcing formation of the term limits group. "It’s unethical to hide the lengthening of political terms in a so-called ethics amendment. It’s unethical to trick the voters."
Legislative supporters of HJR1009 say the proposal was thoroughly discussed in committees, on the floor in each chamber and in the media. They say the legislative terms provision was not a move to throw out term limits but an effort to counter the influence of lobbyists and bureaucrats, and to generally make government work better.
"The voters will have an opportunity to decide on those issues. They come from a very honest and straight-forward effort to improve our government’s functions," said Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, sponsor of HJR1009. "We’ve only have a 20-year history with term limits, but there’s a little bit more information and experience with which voters can determine how effective term limits have been and, alternately, whether they’ve benefited or disadvantaged the effectiveness of our government."
In October, a national term limits organization began pressing Arkansas legislators to remove HJR1009 from the ballot. U.S. Term Limits sent letters to all members of the state Legislature asking them to undo the decision to put the measure before voters.
Serving with Jacob on the legislative question committee are Skip Cook of Maumelle, a businessman who helped lead the 1992 term limits campaign; and Bob Porto of Little Rock, a former president of the Homebuilders Association of Little Rock and the Pulaski County Tea Party.