By James Brooks
Alaska Beacon 

State rejects initiative for legislative term limits


August 30, 2023

Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom has rejected a proposed legislative term-limits ballot measure, citing a Department of Law legal analysis that found the measure was likely unconstitutional.

“The precedent set by the Alaska Supreme Court establishes that legislative term limits violate the Alaska Constitution,” she wrote in an Aug. 23 letter directed to the sponsors of the measure.

As written, the proposed ballot measure would have limited state legislators to no more than 12 consecutive years in office and no more than 20 years in total.

“I’m unhappy about it,” said Elijah Verhagen of Nenana. He cosponsored the measure with Heath Smith of Homer and Trevor Shaw of Ketchikan. “To say that it would be unconstitutional, in my opinion, is a cop-out,” Verhagen said.

Proponents could challenge the state’s determination, but without a challenge the term limits measure will not advance to the signature-gathering stage and will not appear before voters next year.

Various groups attempted in the 1990s to impose term limits on state legislators and Alaska’s members of Congress, but each was ruled unconstitutional.

In 1994, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that because the Alaska Constitution sets the qualifications for legislative office, and because the constitution does not set term limits for legislators, “the only way that term limits might be imposed would be a constitutional amendment.”

Verhagen and Smith said they don’t agree with that interpretation. Article 1, Section 2, of the Alaska Constitution states that “all political power is inherent in the people,” Smith said.

“I think that should override every other consideration,” he said, and based on that principle, he believes that Alaska voters should be allowed the chance to decide term limits.

Smith said he was “discouraged” by the lieutenant governor’s decision and that the sponsors have begun considering whether to challenge that decision in court. “We’ll see, but we’re not going to give up.”

An alternative approach could involve the Alaska Legislature, he suggested. Lawmakers could vote to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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