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Why Arizona Lawmakers Need Longer Terms by Sen John Kavanagh

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State senator: Arizona would be far better served by lawmakers with four-year terms. Here's why:

Arizona would be better served if it changed state legislative terms from two to four years.

Supporters of two-year terms make two key arguments:

-- First, two-year terms enable voters to change the composition of the Legislature quickly to reverse incipient bad state policy.

-- Second, they make elected officials more accountable to voters.

But incumbent legislators rarely lose elections, and changing the composition of the Legislature requires simultaneously ousting many legislators. It is nearly impossible to change the Legislature's composition in a single election. Most legislators leave office voluntarily or due to term limits.

Incumbents rarely lose elections for several reasons. The main is that 

voters like incumbents, which should be obvious because voters are the ones who put the incumbents into office in the first place. Name recognition and the ability to raise far more campaign funds than most challengers keep incumbents in office.

The assertion that two-year terms increase legislator accountability also is questionable because voters, even angry ones, rarely remove sitting legislators. Even the Republican legislators who voted for the Medicaid expansion survived the wrath of voters, with only one losing re-election. And a Tempe senator who missed more than one-third of session days last year was also re-elected.

Now examine the many unintended negative consequences of short, two-year terms:

Inexperienced lawmakers

The first unintended negative consequence is that two-year terms create a less-informed Legislature by increasing the number of inexperienced members serving.

This is due to the combined effects of the two-year terms and term limits. This has created a situation in which, on average at any given time, about 25 percent of legislators are new and inexperienced.

Fortunately, this is not a problem in the state Senate because term limits have turned that chamber into a refugee camp for experienced legislators who were "termed out" of the House.

The inexperience caused by two-year terms also diminishes the influence of the constituents represented by those novice legislators, because inexperienced lawmakers are less effective.

Less informed lawmakers

Legislators have a challenging job. Their responsibilities are not limited to a single subject area. They vote on bills dealing with every conceivable topic from agriculture to zoology, and their decisions have significant impacts on many people's lives.

In addition, besides needing to possess knowledge about this plethora of issues, legislators also need to know how to maneuver bills through the Legislature's complex array of rules and processes. Experience and the knowledge it fosters are vital commodities at the Legislature.

And to make matters worse, when legislators lack experience and knowledge, they must rely more heavily on information and opinions provided by staff members, unelected bureaucrats and lobbyists in the employ of special interests — the latter of whom are especially keen to offer their advice.

None of these alternative information sources are a good substitute for a well-informed legislator. Experience and knowledge are vital, and short, two-year terms unnecessarily diminish the presence of experienced and knowledgeable legislators.

More bickering, outside influence

In addition, longer-serving members build more meaningful relationships with members of the opposite party. Increasing the number of "newbies," consequently, also increases partisan fighting and bickering.

Another negative consequence of two-year terms is the increased empowerment of political donors, including so-called "dark money" players.

Going from two to four-year terms will cut the number of elections in half. While this will not result in a proportional 50 percent reduction in the influence of donors, it will significantly diminish their influence.

I am not suggesting that campaign donors "buy" legislators, but they can buy elections, especially when both of the candidates are newcomers or when an election is close.

Worrying about re-election can also distract legislators from legislating. While most politicians present the appearance of confident extroverts, they are still human beings who seek approval and disdain rebukes, especially very public electoral losses.

More annoyed voters

Two-year terms also contribute to the proliferation of campaign signs and those annoying "robocalls." Logically, half the number of legislative elections means half the presence of associated roadside signs and less home invasions by despised robocallers.

In addition, because four-year terms could align legislative elections with the higher voter turnout presidential and statewide elections, more people would vote in legislative races, which promotes democracy.

Finally, going from two to four-year terms would save the state about $3 million per election by cutting the number of legislative elections in half. While not a budget-solving windfall, in the current anemic condition of state finances, every little bit helps.

In light of the highly questionable benefits of two-year legislative terms and the disturbingly large number of negative unintended consequences they create, I introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 1009, which, if passed by both chambers of the Arizona legislature, will allow the voters to decide in the 2016 election whether to change from two to four-year legislative terms.

The benefits of two-year terms are, at best, questionable and they are greatly outweighed by the unintended negative consequences.

Changing to four-year terms will promote a more effective and better-informed Legislature, which will be less dependent on the influences of bureaucrats, lobbyists and campaign donors, especially dark money ones.

In addition, four-year terms will reduce partisan infighting, the number of campaign signs on our streets and robocalls in our homes. In addition it will save us $3 million a year.

What's not to like about four-year terms?

John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, is an Arizona state senator who previously has served on town councils with two- and four-year terms.

Arizona Republic, Viewpoints, My Turn February 7, 2015

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commented 2016-06-16 12:36:10 -0600 · Flag
How do you rationalize the statements, incumbents are more likely to win but that there is a less-informed legislature due to the increase of inexperienced members serving? It seems to me, if the “representatives” are doing their job, the less-informed legislator argument bends and breaks before the duty of the legislator to be the voice of the constituents.
commented 2016-06-16 12:31:42 -0600 · Flag
How do you rationalize the statements, incumbents are more likely to win but that there is a less-informed legislature due to the increase of inexperienced members serving? It seems to me, if the “representatives” are doing their job, the less-informed legislator argument bends and breaks before the duty of the legislator to be the voice of the constituents.