Term limits author expects close vote

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 30, 1999

The author of initiative No. 9 on Tuesday’s ballot said he expects a close vote for term limits on Tuesday.

&uot;We think it’s going to be a very close vote,&uot; said Dr. Randy Russell, co-chairman of Mississippi Citizens for Legislative Term Limits.

Initiative No. 9 will ask voters if they want to limit state legislators to two terms in office.

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A broader version of the term limits question was defeated by Mississippi voters in the 1995 general election by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. That initiative had proposed to limit terms of not only legislators but all elected officials in the state.

Adams County supported the term limits question in that election by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.

But this election may mark the last time Russell can put the term limits question on a Mississippi ballot. Last fall, the state legislature passed a constitutional amendment making it illegal for out-of-state petitioners to collect signatures for Mississippi referendums. U.S. District Court Judge William Barbour ruled July 13 that the law could not be applied retroactively to the term limits question.

Russell said his primary opposition to the current unlimited terms of state legislators is the overwhelming power of incumbency.

This year, Russell said, 33 percent of House incumbents and 40 percent of Senate incumbents are running unopposed.

&uot;It’s easy to see a lot of people there who have become stale in the their positions,&uot; said incumbent Rep. Andrew Ketchings, R-Natchez. &uot;People are reluctant to run against an entrenched incumbent. You know, after about 12 to 16 years in office, you have a distinct advantage. When you have an incumbent declare they’re leaving a seat, you’ll see eight or nine people pop up to run for it.&uot;

However, incumbent state Sen. Bob M. Dearing, D-Natchez, said he sees several problems with term limits. While the point can be made that incumbency is an advantage for a candidate, Dearing adds that &uot;incumbency translates into experience.&uot;

Dearing equates the experienced legislator to a long-time family doctor. If that doctor has rendered good service, he said, why replace him? &uot;If you want to toss out experience, that’s your choice,&uot; he said.

If initiative No. 9 passes on Tuesday, it will not affect legislators terms of office until the year 2007, Russell said. If the initiative fails, he said, &uot;that will be the death knell of term limits in Mississippi.&uot;

&uot;I don’t know that we’ll do another campaign,&uot; he said.

&uot;We just want people to cast an informed vote.&uot;

Russell first filed Tuesday’s initiative with the Secretary of State’s Office in April 1997. The question was cleared for the November ballot in July.