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Legislative Term Limits Die on First Contact with Committee

In more feckless whackdoodlery, Senator Brent Hoffman (R-9/Sioux Falls) and election conspiracy theorist Rick Weible tried to persuade Senate State Affairs to put stricter Legislative term limits to a vote. Senate State Affairs declined.

Hoffman proposed Senate Joint Resolution 504 to ask voters to amend the South Dakota Constitution to limit legislators to serving eight years in the Senate and eight years in the House. Senator Hoffman said term limits have 60% to 80% support in numerous polls, and he claimed the 88% of the people he talks to in his district support term limits. He said that term limits have never failed in any public vote. Quick googling shows that’s not quite right: term limits usually win, but term limits advocacy group U.S. Term Limits lists four “losses” versus 21 “wins” on term-limit ballot measures in 2022.

Election denier Weible called in from Elkton to ditto Hoffman and say term limits represent the “populist” approach. I’m still trying to figure out how passing arbitrary laws to tell people for whom they can vote represents a “populist” approach.

No one showed up to testify against Hoffman’s term limits, but Senator Reynold Nesiba (D-15/Sioux Falls) craftily tried to torpedo SJR 504 by asking, “Is this going to be as good for Democrats as I think it might be? Is this going to help Democrats pick up a bunch of seats?”

“No comment,” Senator Hoffman immediately rejoined.

Nesiba noted that SJR 504 would “eliminate people that have been here for a very long time that are hard to run against”—and while I don’t have video, the audio suggests Nesiba was turning as he spoke, perhaps to look around the room and cast a meaningful eye on fellow Senate State Affairs member and Senate king Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska), who is now in his eleventh year of Senate service.

Hoffman said he does not consider the partisan effects of good policies when he brings them to the Legislature, and such partisan effects should not be considered.

Senator Sydney Davis (R-17/Burbank) noted via question that lobbyists and department secretaries and deputy secretaries don’t have term limits.

Chairman Casey Crabtree (R-8/Madison) prevented Senator Hoffman from rebutting the opposition implicit in Senator Davis’s question and then asked Hoffman, yes or no, if we have Legislative term limits now. Hoffman said No, evidently suggesting that the current term limits of four consecutive terms in one chamber aren’t real term limits when long-timers can simply switch chambers every eight years or sit out a term and then come back for more.

Long-timer Schoenbeck made the motion to kill SJR 504 and received Nesiba’s quick second. Schoenbeck said he favors term limits, but he said the current limits suffice. He noted that former Republican leaders complained about term limits, even though the current term limits allowed them to gain their leadership positions in their chambers. Schoenbeck said (rightly!) that SJR 504 “damages the voters’ right to choose”.

Senator Erin Tobin (R-21/Winner) said it’s hard to get 30-/40-year-olds like herself to run. She said the current term limits open the door enough for her demographic.

Senator Davis elaborated that the lobbyists and department chiefs “come with the building” and that further limiting terms for legislators would give “the Second Floor” (the Executive branch) more institutional power over the Legislature. Senator Nesiba, surely softly smirking at his clever partisan sabotage, said nothing about the potential Democratic resurgence and simply seconded Davis’s oppositional point.

Senate State Affairs voted 8–1 to kill SJR 504. Senator Nesiba voted without regard to partisan advantage to join the killing of Hoffman’s proposed term limits. Chairman Crabtree cast the lone nay.


  1. Donald Pay 2023-02-14 09:24

    Well, that was predictable. Do you give the keys to the jailhouse door to the inmates and expect them not to escape? No. If Sen. Hoffman actually wants to pass his “Term Limits For Real” proposal, he’s going to have to go directly to the people, who will pass it in a hot minute. He’s going to need a grassroots effort that unites conservatives and progressives and anyone else to petition this to the ballot. That’s what former Rep. John Timmer had to do to get the current “term limits” on the books. Now it’s time to clean up the loopholes that Timmer didn’t foresee in his measure.

    Sen. Erin Tobin is correct. More younger folks are needed. Fewer oldsters like me would be better for the Legislature. Before current term limits, both houses were controlled by what Rep. Venhuizen’s blog called “old bulls.” Most were controlled by the lobbyists that Sen. Davis asked about. The Legislature needs constant turnover to prevent the control of veteran legislators by the lobbyists.

  2. Mark Anderson 2023-02-14 17:50

    This goes wayback to Newt, the pubs ran on it and dropped it immediately after getting elected. 8 years seems extreme but it would be fun to see a legislature that doesn’t know dingles passing legislation.

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