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Shifting regional political power


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"If you get somebody who is good in office and who can stay, they can be quite influential, but if your maximum time is six years, then nobody is very influential," Engler said. "It's brought great turbidity to the legislature because nobody is there long enough to really understand the issues. The Senate has an advantage because they have four to six years in the House to get there, but it's hard in the House because they are just arriving and being asked to deal with state Medicaid or pensions. Those are complicated issues, and you don't just walk in the door and say, 'I'm up to speed on these.' You look around, and everyone else just got there too, so that makes it hard."

Engler said there was a belief when term limits went into effect that veteran legislative staffers would stay in Lansing and be retained by incoming legislators to provide institutional knowledge. However, he said that hasn't happened. Instead, legislators are increasingly relying on lobbyists to provide them with information on issues facing the state.

"It just hasn't worked that way," he said. "You had people working for 20 years with the judiciary or finance committee who weren't making decisions, but if you had a question, you had a place to go for information... some of the special interest groups have been able to capitalize on that. In some cases, I don't know where they go for information."

Monroe Republican and former state legislator Randy Richardville served in both chambers, including a second term in the Senate as the Majority Leader.

"I ran for the state House before term limits actually kicked in, and was in the first class under the era of term limits," he said. "We would be remiss if we didn't think that had something to do with the makeup of the legislature. Today you have people that are less experienced than when I first started."

Richardville said being able to rely on longtime senators who had been serving before term limits took effect was a tremendous help to him when he first arrived to the legislature. That mentor assistance and knowledge was key to navigating his way through Lansing, and helped him to come into leadership positions when he was elected to the Senate.

Professor John Clark, chair of Western Michigan University's political science department, said term limits have contributed to growing partisanship.

"What we had often times (before term limits) was a willingness of people to work across party lines because they knew each other and trusted each other," he said. "When you got rid of that, a lot of those ways of doing business went to the wayside. Some people argue that is a good thing, but I think they're wrong."

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Tags: LONGFORM

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