North Dakota voters OK term limits for governor, legislators

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Voters in North Dakota on Tuesday approved term limits for their governor and state legislators after a campaign largely funded by an outside term limits group and boosted within the state by far-right conservatives.

The ballot measure adds an article to the state constitution limiting lawmakers to eight years each in the state House and Senate. The governor couldn’t be elected more than twice.

“Now we have term limits, and that’s a good thing,” said Jared Hendrix, chair of the measure’s sponsoring committee. “I want to thank everybody for supporting it and I’m also grateful even to the people that came out and voted against it. I just asked them to keep an open mind because we think term limits are going to be good and they’re going to reap the rewards from this.”

Supporters said the measure will bring in new blood more often and increase voter participation. Opponents said term limits are an attack on the electorate’s right to choose its preferred candidates, and that more frequent turnover would diminish institutional knowledge and shift power to lobbyists, agencies and the governor.

Many Democratic and Republican lawmakers have spoken out against the measure. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum supported it.

Republican Rep. Mike Nathe, of Bismarck, who led a loosely organized group of GOP lawmakers and others who opposed the measure, said supporters had the upper hand in finances and time.

“I’m proud about our little group. We didn’t have much time to defeat this, “ Nathe said.

“It’s very complicated work,” Nathe said of the Legislature. “I am concerned with this for the future of the state down the road — not right away — but down the road, when we start losing a lot of people with a lot of valuable experience.”

U.S. Term Limits, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that wants to pass term limits on all elected officials and whose Florida-based head has donated to Libertarian presidential candidates, contributed more than $810,000 in the past two years to get the ballot proposal before voters. Opponents of the measure have raised just over $40,000 to combat the proposal, with several contributions coming from Republican lawmakers, campaign finance disclosure records show.

The measure’s sponsoring committee includes several lawmakers linked to the Legislature’s ultraconservative Bastiat Caucus, as well as several new GOP district chairmen. It raised about $45,000 in addition to contributions from the out-of-state group.

Brooke Thiel, 35, an agriculture professor at North Dakota State University in Fargo and a self-described independent, voted against the measure. She said most lawmakers spend their first term just trying to figure things out and “once things get clicking” in their second terms she might want to vote for them again.

Meghan Friese, a 25-year-old nurse, voted in favor of term limits as she cast an early ballot in Bismarck. She said longtime incumbents are too difficult to defeat.

“Familiarity keeps them there,” she said.

The changes will take effect Jan. 1, but limits will not be retroactive — meaning the service of current officeholders will not count against them.

Fifteen states have term limits for legislators and 36 states limit the terms of governors.


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