HELENA — More Republicans than Democrats are ineligible to run for re-election for seats in the Montana state Senate and House of Representatives in November because of term limits, according to a review of the Secretary of State’s website.
Ten Republicans cannot seek another term, compared to five Democrats in the 50-seat Senate.
In the 100-seat House, nine GOP members are prohibited from running again, whereas six Democrats cannot run in the Nov. 2 elections.
Term limits were approved in Montana in 1992 through Constitutional Initiative 64. The law set term limits on statewide executive officers, state lawmakers and members of Congress, according to the Secretary of State’s website. However, in 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states did not have “constitutional authority” to regulate terms for federal lawmakers and struck down the limits on congressional terms.
CI 64 prohibited public officials from seeking re-election if they have already held the office for eight years in any 16-year period. An official who has already served eight years in a 16-year period can be re-elected by a write-in vote.
Attempts to change the provision have been unsuccessful. In 2004, 69 percent of Montana voters rejected an effort to add more years to terms.
Nationwide, 43 states have general elections in November. In 14 of these states, state lawmakers are subject to term limits, according to ballotpedia.
In a 2006 article, “Trying to Throw the Bums Out,” Montana State University political science professor Jerry Calvert argued that term limits have not been good to Montana.
Before term limits, an average of 13 House seats changed each election, Calvert found. After term limits, it dropped to eight.
“Term limits have robbed us of the right to reelect legislators who are doing a good job, increased the number of uncontested elections, and failed to promote competition between the parties,” he wrote.
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, who with her agency oversees the state’s elections, said she could speak about term limits from personal experience as she was termed from running again for state Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2008.
“(Personally) I am not supportive of term limits,” she said. “I think the people of Montana can turn people out of office by not voting for them. I think we have term limits in the voting booth.
“Having said that, I will enforce the (term limits) law, she said.
Political party officials said they didn’t think their parties would lose seats in the upcoming elections and hoped to gain more members.
“They’re working hard on keeping the seats they have and expanding their majority,” said Martin Kidston, spokesman for the Montana Democratic Party. “We don’t expect to lose any seats at all.”
A top official with the state GOP said his organization was feeling “confident” about the legislative situation.
“I think the main thing is what the mood of the voters is rather than which party controlled it in the past,” said Bowen Greenwood, executive director of the Montana Republican Party. “We see a lot of voters out there who are fed up with out of control government and fed up with out of control spending. That will be reflected in who they elect, rather than whether the seat is open or not.
“We are looking at a legislative situation that leaves us confident,” Greenwood added. “People want to see something different than what they see now.”
James Lopach, head of the political science department at the University of Montana, said it all depends on the district as to who get elected to office.
“The Democrats have tried to maximize power in districting and limit the power of the other party by coming up with as many Democratic majority districts as possible,” he said. “But then, every party tries to do that.”