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Sanfelippo proposes term limits for state office holders

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Looking to break the chain of “career politicians,” state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) is proposing a joint resolution calling for an amendment to Wisconsin’s constitution imposing term limits on state elected officials.

The measure would limit terms to a total of 12 years, per office, for nearly all state elected officials, according to a co-sponsorship memo sent to lawmakers. The term limit for Wisconsin Supreme Court justices is the lone exception, with its cap rising to 20 years. Justices currently serve elected terms of 10 years.

Term limits would apply to state lawmakers, the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, Secretary of State, state treasurer, the state superintendent of public instruction, and state court judges.

The resolution does extend individual terms for lawmakers — from two to four years for state representatives, and from four to six years for senators. So, Assembly members would be term-limited after three consecutive tours of duty, and senators couldn’t seek re-election after two terms.

Each house of the Legislature would also have the terms of its members staggered so that roughly one-half of the Assembly and one-third of the Senate would stand for election every two years, according to the proposed resolution.

Under this proposal, term-limited individuals would be able to seek further office only upon completion of a “5-year cooling off period.”

“I think this is the best way to get money out of politics,” Sanfelippo told Empower Wisconsin. “When you run these two-year terms, you’re constantly having to raise money.”

The Milwaukee-area lawmaker noted Democrats spent $370,000 to try to knock him off in 2020. His opponent spent some $180,000 more than Sanfelippo — for a job that pays about $53,000 a year.

Critics of term limits, like former U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican who represented the 5th Congressional District for more than 40 years, have long argued that voters can impose limits on office holders through regular elections.  But Sanfelippo counters that the vast majority of incumbents are re-elected election after election.

Sanfelippo has had a long run representing the 15th Assembly District, now into his fifth term. He said he’s perfectly willing to live within the limits he’s proposing.

According to the memo, 36 states restrict the number of terms that their governors can serve, while a majority of states also impose term limits on various other elected constitutional offices. In 15 state legislatures, legislators are subject to term limits, according to Ballotpedia and the National Conference of State Legislatures. Voters in six additional states voted to have term limits, only to have those votes nullified.

Wisconsin has no term limits.

The legislative session ended earlier this month. But Sanfelippo said he wants to get the discussion started, and he’s hopeful the Legislature will take up his proposal next year.

He said his initial measure included local officeholders. He took that language out because he thought limiting the terms of city council members and county board supervisors would give the Legislature an excuse not to support the constitutional change.

“I do think every office should be term-limited,” Sanfelippo said.

The proposal does not include federal office holders. The Republican-controlled Legislature this session passed a resolution calling for a convention of states under Article V of the U.S. constitution to consider three amendments checking federal power, including one on term limits.

In his memo, Sanfelippo said state term limits would strike a balance, reducing the constant focus on the next campaign while encouraging new people and ideas to enter government.

“These reforms will go a long way towards creating a more a dynamic citizen-led government that is responsive to the people of Wisconsin,” the memo states.

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1 thought on “Sanfelippo proposes term limits for state office holders

  • It’s about time. I realize that government is an easy way to make lots of money with little effort. But politicians don’t know or understand what real life is like.

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