In her rush to change election rules for 2020 so that Michigan Democrats can complete their takeover of state government, has freshman Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson forgotten about term limits and its impact on the state Senate?
It sure looks that way.
Benson has moved quickly in her first few weeks in office to enter into “settlement” negotiations with the League of Women Voters regarding their federal lawsuit challenging the legislatively-enacted 2011 Congressional, state Senate and state House of Representatives redistricting plans (League of Women Voters of Michigan v Benson).
Part of the settlement discussions have focused on redrawing 10 of the 38 state Senate districts. Benson is pushing for a settlement that would provide for 2020 elections held in at least 10 state Senate districts, if not all 38 of them. Such elections would be for shortened two-year terms using 2010 census data. Then, in 2022, under a newly-redistricted map to be adopted by the Independent Redistricting Commission created by the passage of Proposal 2 last November, state Senate terms would once again be restored to four years in length.
However, Article IV, Section 54, of the Michigan Constitution provides for state legislative term limits. That section says in part:
“No person shall be elected to the office of state senate more than two times.”
It does not say anything about eight years or two four-year terms.
Such a settlement might well result in the 30 newly sworn-in freshman senators (16 Republicans and 14 Democrats) being constitutionally ineligible to run again in 2022 (presupposing they all win re-election in 2020), because they will have been elected to the Senate two times (2018 and 2020).
Furthermore, in 2020, Democrats like Minority Leader Jim Ananich and Curtis Hertel, Jr., would be ineligible to run in 2020 and for the rest of their lives along with Republicans Mike Shirkey, Jim Stamas, Ken Horn, Wayne Schmidt, Dale Zorn and Peter MacGregor because they have already been elected to the Senate two times (2014 and 2018). That presupposes that Benson has not “saved” these lawmakers in her plan by excluding them from the list of Senate districts that would have to be redrawn, if that is in fact technically and legally possible.
Benson might be able to convince a three-judge federal panel to order 10, or 38, state Senate elections in 2020 with a one-time two-year term, but that doesn’t necessarily empower that same panel to re-write the Michigan Constitution regarding state legislative term limits.
It appears that Benson, less than one month in office, is about to be introduced to the Law of Unintended Consequences once the 38 senators understand the impact her proposed lawsuit settlement will have on them individually. She may discover a bipartisan rocky reception in the state Senate for her department’s future legislative initiatives and budget.
Of course, Benson may already have clued in her Democratic colleagues in the Legislature with this reassuring message: “Hey, you’ve just got to suck it up and take one for the team.”