Editor's note: This article is part of a series offering primers on the candidates and issues on the November 2020 ballot.
For nearly 20 years, everyone with a vote or veto in the Missouri capitol has had their days numbered by term limits — except for four statewide officials.
Missourians are being asked to eliminate those exceptions this fall with Amendment 1, which would apply the two-term, eight-year caps on the governor and treasurer to the state auditor, attorney general, lieutenant governor and secretary of state.
Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, who sponsored the plan in the legislature, told colleagues the idea would eliminate an “inconsistency” among the state’s top elected officials.
Luetkemeyer made support for term limits a part of his 2018 campaign, and U.S. Term Limits, an organization that supports term limits for state and federal officials, took notice.
The Washington, D.C. nonprofit sent $450,000 to a political action committee that in turn spent money on advertisements to help Luetkemeyer.
But not everyone was enamored of the idea in debate last year.
Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, told Luetkemeyer he thinks it’s actually beneficial to allow attorneys general and auditors to build up expertise in their offices, which he considers different from the governor position.
“We want people in there who are experienced and know the job and know what they’re doing,” he said. “I do think that those are a little different categorically and functionally than those top executive positions.”
That line of thinking has been applied elsewhere.
Extending term limits to other state offices
As of 2016, more than a dozen states, including neighboring Kansas, confine term limits to the governor and their deputy executive among statewide officers, according to Council of State Governments report.
Fourteen states have no term limits for their statewide officials.
Then-Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, also brought up the oft-lamented issues lawmakers have had with term limits, which some say have left them at the mercy of long-tenured lobbyists on complex issues.
But Luetkemeyer pointed out statewide officials have the benefit of large career staffs that carry on institutional knowledge in their stead.
Luetkemeyer’s arguments ultimately carried the day, with the Senate voting 31-3 and the House voting 114-32 to send it to voters.
If history is any guide, the plan has a good chance with them, too.
Nearly 73 percent of voters backed term limits for the governor in 1965, and three-quarters of them approved term limits for the legislature in 1992.
The Amendment 1 language is as follows:
“Do you want to amend the Missouri Constitution to extend the two term restriction that currently applies to the Governor and Treasurer to the Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor and the Attorney General?
“State and local governmental entities estimate no costs or savings from this proposal.”
A “yes” vote will approve the new term limits; a “no” vote will leave things as they are now.