News: CJ Exclusives

Timidity Over Term-Limits Amendment Ticks Off Sponsor

Restricting tenure of House and Senate leaders could be put off to next year

Greensboro Republican Rep. John Blust wants to limit how long top legislative leaders can serve in office, and he isn’t happy that his colleagues in the General Assembly didn’t reach a compromise on the issue before leaving town Sept. 14.

Along with House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, Blust co-sponsored a constitutional amendment that would restrict the House speaker and Senate leader from serving for more than two regular legislative sessions (or four years). The proposal passed the House 72-46 in April, but that’s as far as it got.

During a special session devoted to constitutional amendments that convened in mid-September, the Senate opted to pass a new version of the amendment, one that extended term limits to four terms (or eight years).

The House voted to not concur with the Senate approach, essentially killing the issue until the short session convenes in May next year.

Blust thought his amendment would fly through the Senate because it had the support of top leaders in that chamber. The fact that it didn’t upsets the seven-term Republican.

“The problem is getting it through the House again,” Blust said. “I can’t seem to get them to understand that we were lucky to get anything.”

The chambers could compromise at three terms, but even that is proving difficult to achieve. Shortly after the session adjourned, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, issued a press release suggesting a two-term limit for legislative leaders and a one-term limit for the governor, ensuring that leaders are in power for more than four years at a time.

The idea got a lukewarm reception in the House. “I don’t think that’s going to fly,” Blust said.

Even so, Tillis still holds out hope a compromise will be reached. “I’m optimistic we’ll have a term limits question on the ballot, and I’m optimistic that it will be something other than what was sent back by the Senate,” he told reporters shortly after the September session adjourned.

Blust said that his goal all along has been to make the House and Senate leader less powerful, regardless of which party controls the legislature.

“I don’t know why somebody essentially gets a majority [vote] of the majority caucus, and all of a sudden they are endowed with genius,” he said.

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.