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Karr Takes Second Swing at Four-Year Terms for Legislators, Sneaks in Lifelong Term Limits

No wonder Senator Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) needed a vacation: he was all sad about losing his chance to shut out voters and extend his term in the Senate to four years. He and Sen. Jordan Youngberg (R-8/Madison) were on the losing end of a 5–2 committee vote last Friday to kill Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would have put on the 2020 ballot the really bad idea of doubling the length of Legislative terms.

No, please, Legislature, give Al the chance to spend the 2020 election telling voters why he should only have to answer to them every four years instead of every two.

But hang in there, Al and fellow anti-voter elitists. Representative Chris G. Karr (R-11/Sioux Falls) saw SJR 1 die and trudged up to the hopper to toss in his own term-extender, House Joint Resolution 1006. Two four-year terms, max, just like SJR 1 proposed. The text differs in details, specifying that folks who’ve already served “one, two or three consecutive years” is eligible for two four-year terms, folks who’ve served “four, five, six, or seven consecutive years” can have one four-year term, and folks who’ve served eight consecutive years can’t have a four-year term.

Wait a minute—don’t think, just read HJR 1006 again, carefully. Rep. Karr appears to have snuck lifelong term limits into his proposal. Let me quote that new section in full:

Any person having already served one, two, or three consecutive years is eligible for two four-year terms. Any person having served four, five, six, or seven consecutive years is eligible for one four-year term. Any person having served eight consecutive years is not eligible for a four-year term [HJR 1006, excerpt].

These words don’t mention in which chamber that service took place or when that service took place. So consider Billie Sutton. He served for eight consecutive years in the Senate before running for Governor. He’s just banking and helping at the ranch now, but suppose he decided he wanted to return to public service in the Legislature. HJR 1006 would look at his record, see that Sutton served eight consecutive years, and say, “Nope, you can’t come back. You’re not eligible for a four-year term, in either the Senate or the House.”

Or consider Kristi Noem. She served two two-year terms in the State House before running off to Congress in 2011, then coming back to be Governor. Suppose she gets tired of all those hard executive decisions (or, more likely, we get tired of her and Matt McCaulley’s executive decisions) and decides a few years from now she’d rather go back to being a part-time legislator. HJR 1006 would look at her record, see she served four consecutive years in the Legislature, and say, “O.K., but you can only have one four-year term, then no more, in either chamber.”

Or consider Al Novstrup. He’s now in his 17th consecutive year of “service.” This is his third year in the Senate; prior to that he was in the House for two years, with various switching before that. HJR 1006 looks at Novstrup’s record the same as it would Sutton’s: eight consecutive years, no more Legislature for you.

Wait—HJR 1006 means Novstrup can’t run for reëlection? Let me reconsider my position…

…no, term limits are still dumb. So are doubled terms for legislators. Throw HJR 1006 in the trash with SJR 1, and let’s keep legislators accountable and facing the voters every election.