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North Dakota approves term limits for governor, legislators

About 63% of voters favored the measure that will put caps on how long state legislators and governors can serve, per unofficial results. North Dakota will be the first state to pass legislative term limits since 2000.

The North Dakota House of Representatives meets in the state Capitol on Feb. 11, 2021.
The North Dakota House of Representatives meets in the state Capitol on Feb. 11, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — Voters in North Dakota have passed a measure on Tuesday, Nov. 8, to impose term limits on state legislators and governors. The proposed caps on public service will drive a major shift in who makes the most consequential decisions in Bismarck.

In complete but unofficial results, 63% of voters approved Measure 1, while 37% rejected it. All statewide election results in North Dakota must be certified by the state Canvassing Board before becoming official, but the wide margin has supporters and opponents in agreement about the measure's success.

The passage of Measure 1 will amend the North Dakota Constitution to limit the governor and state legislators to eight years of service, though lawmakers will be able to serve up to eight years each in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

A grandfather clause included in the measure means the clock won't start ticking on current officeholders’ tenures until next year. The Legislature cannot propose amendments to the term limits.

Measure chairman Jared Hendrix declared a "big win" for the measure Tuesday night, noting that voters saw the obvious benefits of reining in long-serving politicians.

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"(Voters) innately understand the status quo is lopsided in favor of the political class. Term limits might be inconvenient for the lobbyists and political class, but they will just have to adjust," Hendrix said in a news release.

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Minot political organizer Jared Hendrix poses for a portrait in the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck on Wednesday, Oct 26, 2022. Hendrix serves as the chairman of Measure 1, which would enact term limits on state lawmakers and governors.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

State Rep. Mike Nathe, a Bismarck Republican who campaigned against term limits, said the measure's approval will put "inexperienced lawmakers in powerful positions," resulting in lower-quality governance.

Proponents of term limits, many of whom align with the Legislature’s ultra conservative Bastiat Caucus, say barring incumbents from serving decades in state government will allow new representatives to promote fresh ideas.

Opposition to the measure made strange bedfellows out of legislators, party leaders and interest groups that usually find themselves clashing on policy.

Lawmakers from both parties argued term limits would diminish institutional knowledge within the chambers and give savvy bureaucrats more influence. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum supported term limits.

North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, speaks at a press conference in Bismarck on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, flanked by legislators and representatives of several business groups. A bipartisan group of lawmakers joined about two dozen interest groups in opposing a measure to enact term limits on some public officeholders.
North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, speaks at a press conference in Bismarck on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022, flanked by legislators and representatives of several business groups. A bipartisan group of lawmakers joined about two dozen interest groups in opposing a measure to enact term limits on some public officeholders.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

The measure that will change North Dakota’s political landscape almost didn’t make the ballot.

Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger in March rejected thousands of signatures gathered by Hendrix’s group, arguing they failed to meet legal standards. Jaeger also alleged the group offered illegal bonuses to petitioners.

Following a swift legal battle, the state Supreme Court ruled in September that Jaeger had “misapplied the law” in discounting certain signatures. The high court’s decision landed the measure on the November ballot.

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Nathe said Tuesday allowing a "fraud-riddled" measure on the ballot was "a black eye for the Supreme Court." He noted that if his quickly formed opposition group had more time to educate voters, they could have put up a better fight.

U.S. Term Limits, a national organization, funded support for the measure to the tune of about $900,000 over the last two years. More than a quarter of this sum was used to pay lawyers during the dispute with Jaeger.

North Dakota will be the first state to pass legislative term limits since 2000.

Fifteen other states, including South Dakota and Montana, have term limits on legislators and 36 other states have term limits on governors.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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