Our Opinion: No compelling reason to extend term limits

A proposal to extend term limits to all statewide elected executive offices in Missouri has been pre-filed for consideration by lawmakers.

We never have been stalwart proponents of term limits, but they now cover Missouri’s entire legislative branch and one-third of elected executive offices.

Although we concede an argument can be made that expanding term limits is a matter of fundamental fairness, we remain unconvinced.

A Senate Joint Resolution filed by Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, would extend the blanket to all six statewide elected executives. If lawmakers approve, a proposed constitutional amendment would be placed before Missouri voters.

“Missouri has held term limits for the governor and members of the Senate and House for some time now,” Lager said. “Our founders envisioned a government that was run by citizen volunteers, not professional politicians. These limits ensure that Missouri remains a state run by fresh volunteers to public service, not entitled career politicians.”

Lager’s quote neglected to mention the state treasurer who, like the governor, is limited by Missouri’s Constitution to two, four-year terms in office.

Term limits were extended to lawmakers in 1992 when Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment to that effect. State lawmakers may serve eight years — four, two-year terms — in the House of Representatives, and eight years — two, four-year terms — in the Senate.

Free from those restrictions are four statewide elected offices — lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and auditor.

The conventional justification for limiting only governor and treasurer is that immense power is concentrated in those offices.

The governor obviously is chief executive and the treasurer oversees placement of lucrative, sought-after state finances in private financial institutions.

Can that rationale be extended to the remaining four offices?

Lager reasons: “Term limits should not apply to only half of our government. Missouri is best served by a system that promotes fresh ideas and encourages participation at all levels of government. Political participation and public service should not be limited to the few, but should be available to all.”

We find that rationale vague and unconvincing.

We maintain voters have the power to limit an incumbent’s term in any election. We dislike proposals that sap a voter’s power to choose and replace it with an arbitrary, automatic limit.

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