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ND Term-Limits Plan Could Give More Power to Lobbyists


Thursday, July 8, 2021   

BISMARCK, N.D. - Next year, North Dakota voters could be asked to consider a plan often floated as a way to shake up traditional politics.

Term limits are viewed as a populist reform tool, but one expert says in this state, it might benefit influential voices working behind the scenes.

North Dakota's secretary of state is deciding whether to approve a planned petition drive to impose term limits on the governor's office and for state lawmakers. It's being pushed by a group of ultraconservative elected and party officials.

University of North Dakota political scientist Mark Jendrysik said there is a side effect to consider here.

"In a lot of states, lobbying organizations - whether it's for business or for ideological lobbying groups, you know - present model legislation for the Legislature," said Jendrysik. "And, you know, quite often in North Dakota that's the legislation that gets adopted."

That's because North Dakota lawmakers are only considered "part time" and have limited staff to help write policy. He said higher turnover will give lobbying groups more influence to draft laws that aren't exactly tailored for North Dakota.

Political experts say term limits also prevent voters from choosing who they want. Those behind the plan argue term limits open up citizen access to the process while doing away with career politicians.

Jendrysik acknowledged it may help weed out politicians who use their office to gain more power for themselves and those close to them. But he said it wouldn't be beneficial to see experience fall by the wayside.

"I think you would lose a lot of the people who've learned how the Legislature works over time," said Jendrysik. "And you would certainly lose people in leadership positions who really direct the activities of the Legislature."

He said those leaders play a role in identifying proposals from national lobbying groups that don't align with North Dakota's electorate.

The plan calls for limits of eight years in office for the governor, State House and state Senate.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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