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A new group is launching a drive to limit terms for top state officeholders plus all appointees to state boards and commissions to no more than eight years.
"I think the U.S. Constitution has it right in limiting the executive office [of president] to two terms, and there are 36 other states around the country that have come to the same conclusion" to limit terms for governors, said Rick Larsen, organizer of Utah Term Limits NOW!
"It's healthy," he said. "It brings new ideas. I think it disrupts entrenched power where decisions are no longer transparent or decisions are based on re-election. I just think it's good for democracy."
Larsen said the drive is not in reaction to any current officeholder, but seeks to limit what James Madison called a lust for power that comes with long service. "It's not about anybody or any office. It's about human nature."
The group is taking a two-pronged approach as it seeks term limits.
It filed papers this week with the lieutenant governor's office to start a petition process seeking to put on next year's ballot a law that would limit terms for members of hundreds of state boards.
The group plans to separately ask the Legislature to pass and send to voters a state constitutional amendment to limit terms for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor and treasurer to two consecutive four-year terms. It plans to gather signatures urging legislative action as it gathers signatures for the state-boards initiative.
Larsen said the group is asking the Legislature for the constitutional amendment on statewide elected officials because "those are constitutional offices, so we feel like they should be addressed by a constitutional amendment."
The petition drive faces some big hurdles. Supporters must collect 101,981 signatures with signatures required from most state Senate districts by April 15 in order to qualify for the 2016 general election, said Mark Thomas, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
Before the signature gathering may begin, the state by law has about a month to review the language and form of petitions to ensure it is legal. Once that approval is given, supporters are required to hold seven public hearings around the state and then may gather signatures, Thomas said.
Larsen said his group figures the effort will cost "several hundred thousand dollars." He hopes most of the signature gathering will be done by volunteers, "but as we get close to the deadline we expect to use paid workers, too."
He added, "I am very confident that financing of this effort will not be a problem," and adds that his group is actually aiming to collect 140,000 signatures much more than the minimum required. It has a website seeking volunteers, UtahTermLimits.com.
Larsen said his group has "strong bipartisan support," but declined to list major supporters for now adding the group hopes to hold a news event in a week to 10 days to announce backers.
However, papers filed with the state included signatures by five initial sponsors including Larsen; former Utah Senate Majority Leader Steve Poulton; former Utah Department of Commerce Director Russell Skousen; Randy O'Hara, who was campaign manager for Republican Salt Lake County mayoral candidate Mark Crockett; and Heather Williamson, former director of development for the Libertas Institute.
Larsen said the group paid for a poll by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research in April that found 79 percent of Utah voters support term limits for statewide elected officials, and only 10 percent oppose such caps. He said it also found 75 percent support limiting terms for Utah's boards and commissions.
Coincidentally, UtahPolicy.com released a separate poll this week showing 91 percent of Utahns support various types of term limits for the Utah governor and state Senate, and 92 percent favored limits for Utah House members.
The new drive does not seek term limits for Utah's part-time legislators. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states cannot impose term limits on U.S. senators and House members.
Utah has seen a variety of efforts to limit terms through the years, including one term-limits law passed by the Legislature but repealed before it actually had any effect.
In 1994, political maverick Merrill Cook pushed a voter initiative to limit terms, which appeared to have broad public support. Legislators short-circuited that effort by passing a less strict limit. The law was repealed in 2003 before preventing a single person from seeking reelection.