News Story

Term Limits Blamed For Philandering Politicians, No Local Casino, More

The excuse for everything Michigan’s political class doesn’t like

In 2015, State Sen. Virgil Smith of Detroit was arrested for shooting at his ex-wife’s car after she caught him in bed with another woman. That same year, freshman state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat were caught having an extra-marital affair together.

Although stories about politicians allegedly cheating on their spouses go back centuries, Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley blamed these more recent examples on term limits.

“Expect more of these follies,” Finley wrote in 2015. “Term limits have turned the Legislature into an amateur vaudeville club.”

Recently, a bipartisan group of former legislators filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking to overturn Michigan’s term limit law, which was approved by Michigan voters in 1992 and amended since then. Some current lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, have announced their intent to change the law.

Two years after Finley wrote his comments, Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Chad Livengood blamed the extra-marital dalliances of Smith, Courser and Gamrat on term limits.

In 2010, freelance writer Mike Connell stated in the Traverse City Record-Eagle that if not for term limits, it was a “good bet” that Port Huron would have a casino and there would be a new four-year university in the Traverse City area.

That same year, a commentary by former Michigan Radio columnist Jack Lessenberry linked term limits to poor student progress at the state’s public schools.

In 2012, political commentator Tim Skubick linked increased tuition rates at state universities to term limits.

Term limits have for years been used by politicians and pundits as a convenient whipping boy in a myriad of issues. Mackinac Center for Public Policy fiscal analyst James Hohman took note of this in 2016 and decided to start a collection. Since then, he has kept a record of all the bad things insiders and members of the political class have blamed on term limits.

“When state political commentators didn’t like something that happened in Lansing, term limits were regular pointed at as the villain,” Hohman said in an email. “I had noticed that for years. So I started a list and began adding to it whenever I saw term limits blamed for something.”

Since 2016, Hohman has noted the following issues have been blamed on term limits: the Flint lead crisis, the ballot-box failure of a 2015 gas tax increase, the Detroit school district’s ongoing woes, termed-out politicians’ relatives running for office, nepotism, racism, poor roads, failure of lawmakers to enact auto insurance reform, a decline in the quality of life, poor teacher evaluations and (alleged) declines in state personal income.

In all, Hohman has tracked 54 instances since March 2016 where term limits were blamed in media and public online reports for policy, governance or personal behavior issues and outcomes contrary to the preferences of Lansing insiders and pundits.