Greater Opportunity Through Innovative Change


THE IMPACT OF TERM LIMITS ON THE
ARKANSAS LEGISLATURE (1992-2001)

More Political Competition, Increased Female Representation

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Little Rock, AR. 72201
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INTRODUCTION:

In November 1992 the people of Arkansas approved a Term Limitation amendment to the state Constitution in a statewide election by a 60-to-40 percent margin. The amendment limits state executive branch elected officials to two four-year terms. Members of the legislative branch are limited to two four-year terms in the state Senate and three two-year terms in the House. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state limits in 1995. The people of Arkansas also limited the terms of congressional members but the U.S. Supreme Court found these limits to be unconstitutional.


SUMMARY FINDINGS:

Political competition has increased in Arkansas legislative races under term limits. The number of contested primary elections and legislative candidates have increased in three of the four elections since 1992. In two elections the number of candidates grew more than 20 percent compared to the last election (1992) before term limits took effect.

Female representation in the Arkansas legislature has grown dramatically under term limits, doubling since 1992.

POLITICAL COMPETITION

Academic James C. Miller III notes consumers in commercial markets make decisions by voting with their pocketbooks. Initially, political markets (or "politics") appear very different from commercial markets (or "business"). Yet there are many similarities. In political markets we "consume with our votes," whereas in commercial markets we "vote with our pocketbooks." In political markets the voter is king, and in commercial markets the consumer is king. Choosing a representative in a political market is similar to choosing a retailer in a commercial market. The retailer is our "agent," supplying the desired goods or services. In political markets we choose an agent, or legislator, to represent us in collective decision making. In commercial markets we tend to gravitate toward enterprises that have earned our trust as agents. In political markets, the analogy to a commercial enterprise is a political party. In both commercial and political markets those who would be your agents solicit your support. In commercial markets it is called advertising. In political markets it is termed campaigning. Firms, Miller notes, attempt to provide the "right" products and services, develop new ones and provide them at the lowest cost. In political markets, parties and candidates not only take positions on issues to appeal to voters and develop new ideas, but try to deliver these efficiently.

These similarities between commercial and political markets are based in part on the existence of competition among agents. Firms compete for consumersí dollars; parties and candidates compete for citizensí votes. The freedom to choose is essential to allowing markets to operate efficiently. Voters can switch allegiances among candidates to keep them responsive. Abandoning the Democrats for the Republicans keeps the former attentive to the needs of voters (vice versa for the latter). Just as in commercial markets, agents in political markets have an incentive to monopolize the marketplace. Business firms that exclude rivals "can raise prices, diminish quality (and therefore reduce costs), make more profit, and in general live more comfortable lives, free from the hassles of having to "compete." Political parties and candidates who exclude rivals have much more power and influence, can more easily reject the interests of their constituents, have guaranteed tenure, and live easier lives," according to Miller. The monopolizing party becomes more important and able to distribute more favors to its supporters than under a competitive political system.

Antitrust laws prevent monopoly in commercial markets because competition has broad public support. There is no direct analog in political markets but voter franchise, ballot access and protections against voter fraud limit monopoly power and support competition. Term limits also increase political competition by forcing turnover in legislative bodies. More primary elections and a greater variety of candidates result in voters having increased consumer choice.

Before term limits took effect Jan. 1, 1993, only 82 candidates filed for Arkansas legislative seats in the 1992 primary election. In 1994, the number of candidates filing increased to 102, and leaped again to 108 in 1998. The following chart illustrates the increase in political competition in legislative races since voters approved term limits in 1992:

Election Contested Primaries Candidates Filing For Office
1992 36 82
1994 43 102
1996 35 75
1998 46 108
2000 39 92

The number of contested primary elections and legislative candidates have increased in three of the four elections since voters approved term limits. In two elections (1994, 1998) the number of candidates filing for office increased more than 20 percent compared to the last election (1992) before term limits took effect.

Political competition increased more dramatically in the Arkansas House than the Senate. In 1992 there were 62 candidates standing for office in 28 House primaries. In 1994 there were 90 candidates in 38 primaries and two years later, 67 candidates in 31 primaries. In 1998 there were 94 candidates in 40 primaries and last year 68 candidates campaigned in 28 primaries. By contrast, there were 20 Senate candidates in eight primaries in 1992. In 2000, there were 24 Senate candidates in 11 primaries. Term limitsí full impact will likely be felt in the Arkansas Senate next year when the last senators who were serving in 1992 are forced by law from office.

FEMALE REPRESENTATION

Increased female representation in the Arkansas legislature is one result of more political competition in the state. Female representation has grown substantially under term limits, doubling since 1992. The following chart illustrates the increase in female representation since voters approved term limits:

Legislative Session Number Of Women Serving Percentage
1971-72 3 2.2%
1981-82 5 3.7%
1991-92 9 6.6%
1993-94 13 9.6%
1995-96 17 12.6%
1997-98 23 17.0%
1999-2000 20 14.8%
2001-02 18 13.3%

Twenty-four of the 26 new female legislators elected since term limits took effect replaced males in the Arkansas legislature. More than two-thirds faced primary elections before winning public office. This subgroup includes 16 of the 18 women (4 Senate, 14 House) currently serving.


APPENDIX: ARKANSAS TERM LIMITATION AMENDMENT:

Amendment 73 of the Constitution of Arkansas.

Preamble: The people of Arkansas find and declare that elected officials who remain in office too long become preoccupied with reelection and ignore their duties as representatives of the people. Entrenched incumbency has reduced voter participation and has led to an electoral system that is less free, less competitive, and less representative than the system established by the Founding Fathers. Therefore, the people of Arkansas, exercising their reserved powers, herein limit the terms of elected officials.

  Executive Branch.

(a) The Executive Department of this State shall consist of a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer of State, Auditor of State, Attorney General, and Commissioner of State Lands, all of whom shall keep their offices at the seat of government, and hold their offices for the term of four years, and until their successors are elected and qualified.

(b) No elected officials of the Executive Department of this State may serve in the same office more than two such four-year terms.

Legislative Branch.

(a) The Arkansas House of Representatives shall consist of members to be chosen every second year by the qualified electors of the several counties. No member of the Arkansas House of Representatives may serve more than three such two-year terms.

(b) The Arkansas Senate shall consist of members to be chosen every four years by the qualified electors of the several districts. No member of the Arkansas Senate may serve more than two such four-year terms.

Congressional Delegation.

(a) Any person having been elected to three or more terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Arkansas shall not be certified as a candidate and shall not be eligible to have his/her name placed on the ballot for election to the United States House of Representatives from Arkansas.

(b) Any person having been elected to two or more terms as a member of the United States Senate from Arkansas shall not be certified as a candidate and shall not be eligible to have his/her name placed on the ballot for election to the United States Senate from Arkansas.

Severability.

The provisions of this Amendment are severable, and if any should be held invalid, the remainder shall stand. Provisions Self-Executing.

Provisions of this Amendment shall be self-executing. Application.

(a) This Amendment to the Arkansas Constitution shall take effect and be in operation on January 1, 1993, and its provisions shall be applicable to all person thereafter seeking election to the offices specified in this Amendment.

(b) All laws and constitutional provisions which conflict with this Amendment are hereby repealed to the extent that they conflict with this amendment.