Saturday, November 26, 2005

Term Limited Senators: "Hell No, We Won't Go!"

by Kyle Michaelis
It always seemed inevitable that Nebraska's 2000 amendment to the Constitution limiting state senators to two terms would end up in the courts as the 2006 election that will see the law's first electoral sacrifices approached.

But, when the challenge wasn't made earlier this year, as candidates started emerging in reliance on the expected abundance of open seats, one had to start wondering if we wouldn't see a real challenge to these term limits until they finally reached their intended target - legendary Omaha Senator Ernie Chambers - in 2008. It was beginning to look like none of the senators being forced out gave enough of a damn about their job to fight to keep it - or at least, none of them had the courage/audacity to fight the assumed "will of the people."

Of course, I'll bet a number of senators would have been happy to piggy-back a challenge by Chambers if only the timeline had played in their favor - just so long as he absorbed the accompanying notoriety, as has so often been the case when Chambers has fought the good fight on principles, providing cover and shelter for those who share them when convenient.

With such meek behavior in the face of their own rights being trampled, term limits were almost looking like a good idea - if for no other reason than to clear the forest of its dead wood. If these folks won't even stand up for themselves for fear of stepping on some toes, really...what good are they to anyone else who needs a voice?

Well, the jury is still out on that one, but - at long last - it seems one state senator is finally ready to tread where others have been unwilling. And, if he succeeds, we might just have an unGodly mess on our hands with an army of geezer legislators coming back from the verge of political death to defend their claims to power.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Dennis Byars is challenging the will of the people with . . . the will of the people.

Byars, a state senator from Beatrice, said Wednesday that he will seek to overturn Nebraska's constitutional amendment restricting legislators to two consecutive four-year terms.

Byars, who ran unopposed in 2002, said the people of Legislative District 30 are largely responsible for his challenge.

"At virtually every speaking engagement or gathering that I attend, people come up to me and tell me they want me to oppose term limits," Byars said. "They say they are happy with how I represent them and my accessibility. They don't want me to step down."

Under the ballot measure overwhelmingly approved in 2000, senators elected in 1998 - including Byars - were limited to one more term.

"I believe Nebraska's term limits are unconstitutional because they violate the First and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution," Byars said. "Term limits take away my rights to run for re-election and my constituents' rights."

Byars, 65, will be completing his 14th year in the Legislature when the 2006 session ends next summer. He said he plans to file for re-election Monday.

"I expect the secretary of state to turn down my application because of term limits, so I will then file a lawsuit asking that the portion of the constitution dealing with term limits . . . be overturned."

The Lincoln Journal-Star continues:
Lincoln Sen. Marian Price and other state senators could follow a Beatrice lawmaker’s plan to challenge Nebraska’s term limits law, she said Thursday....

“A majority has spoke and said ‘we want term limits’ but I think if a number of us come out it will say ‘heck no, we don’t want to go,’” she said. “I’m going to go out very defiantly”....

Byars [and Price are] among 20 of the 49 senators in Nebraska’s one-house Legislature who are barred from seeking another term in 2006....

“All I’m asking is for the court to let me place my name on the ballot and let my constituents make a decision on if they want to keep me,” he said. “That’s giving people a democratic choice. Nothing guarantees I would be elected”....

Nebraska is one of 15 states that limit the terms of state lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Courts in Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming have thrown out term limits, and lawmakers in Idaho and Utah repealed them.

Strange days ahead. Who knows what this foretells for next year's elections? Got to assume many term limited Senators will just step down to avoid the hassle of asserting their rights (not to mention the difficulty of throwing together an unexpected campaign this late in the game).

However, there is certainly an element by which all bets are off and everything is now up in the air, especially when the inherent advantages of incumbency (the whole reasoning for term limits to begin with) leave running for re-election on the fly a still rather inviting proposition.

The numbers simply don't lie about such things. I honestly can't see any possible backlash from challenging these voter-approved term limits doing any worse than almost level the playing field. Current senators know this is true, too, and now that one of them has made this move it's going to be that much easier for the next one (or next dozen) to follow suit.


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