Legislators attempting to bypass term limits

6 incumbents run for other chamber

Alia Beard Rau and Josh Kelley
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 3, 2004 12:00 AM

Half a dozen Arizona legislative candidates in this year's elections are wriggling around voter-instituted term limits by swapping jobs.

Instead of leaving the Legislature after serving eight consecutive years, they are running for seats in the other chamber.

In at least one district, the termed-out state senator and the termed-out representative are trying to trade seats.

"They're going by the law, but they're stretching it to the limit," said voter Allan Schaffer, 54, of Mesa. Arizona voters approved the voter-driven initiative, which allowed legislators to serve no more than four two-year terms in the same chamber, by a 3-to-1 margin in 1992.

State Rep. Linda Gray, who is termed out and hopes to trade jobs with Sen. Jim Weiers in the same Phoenix district, said the limits led to a 50 percent turnover in legislative seats last year.

"I was one of those voters who supported term limits, but now I've been down there and seen the lack of institutional knowledge," she said. "It's good to have somebody around who knows that information."

The seat swappers in Tuesday's party primaries include:

Gray and Weiers, in the Republican primary in District 10, which includes parts of Phoenix and Glendale. Weiers is not termed out in the Senate; he served eight years in the House and then switched to the Senate for a term. He is now running for re-election to the House.

In the Republican primary in Mesa, termed-out Rep. Karen Johnson and Sen. Mark Anderson are campaigning together in an attempt to win each other's seats in District 18. Anderson, who termed out of the House seat in 2002 and then was elected to the Senate, agreed to run for the House so Johnson could run for his Senate seat.

In the Republican primary in western Arizona's District 3, termed-out Rep. Joe Hart of Kingman is running for a Senate seat.

In the Democratic primary in District 23, which includes Pinal County and Avondale, termed-out Sen. Pete Rios of Hayden is running for the House seat that was held for six years until 2000 by his daughter, Rebecca Rios. She is running for his Senate seat.

In the Nov. 2 general election, in eastern Arizona's District 5, Sen. Jack Brown, D-St. Johns, and Rep. Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, are both termed-out and running for each other's seat. They are unopposed in the September primary.

Colby Bower, one of six candidates in the Mesa District 18 House Republican primary, harshly criticized Anderson and Johnson for playing "musical chairs" with term limits.

"It doesn't violate the letter of the law," said Bower, 28. "But I think it certainly violates the spirit of the law."

Johnson called Bower's accusation typical politics.

"There are dozens of others doing the same thing," she said. "I feel term limits are unconstitutional, and I feel it's up to the voters."

Anderson said he willingly switched to the House race to keep Johnson in the Legislature.

"There isn't a whole lot of difference between the House and the Senate," Anderson said. "The only real difference is, as a senator, you have a tad more clout simply because there's less senators." There are 60 House and 30 Senate seats.

He says he and Johnson will have more sway in the Legislature because of their experience and institutional knowledge.

Some voters aren't so sure.

Mesa resident John Gardiner, 45, said politicians should pay attention to term limits.

"It just seems to me like people should just serve a certain amount of time and get out and let somebody else serve," Gardiner said.

Maria Munoz, a school coordinator and social worker who helps register voters, said she was unaware candidates were attempting to exchange positions.

"I'm very surprised," said Munoz, of Chandler. "I wish the public would know more about this."

At the time of the vote concerning term limits, supporters said the goal was eliminate career politicians and vote in fresh ideas. That year, about a dozen other states also approved term limits. The Arizona law does not forbid termed-out state legislators from seeking election to another office or running for the same seat after sitting out one term.

Paul Jacob, senior fellow for the Illinois-based term-limit advocacy organization U.S. Term Limits, said that without term limits, a politician's incumbency power builds up over the years, resulting in them rarely being challenged. "The voters of Arizona approved them because they thought it would give them better government," he said. "We've seen the results and it's not chaos. It's a Legislature that voters feel is more responsive."

Termed-out candidates disagree.

"I've always thought term limits were a mistake," said Brown, the termed-out District 5 senator now running for the House. "You get people who have a good background and get them trained, and then in eight years, you say they can't serve anymore."

He said he decided to switch to the House instead of retiring because he has a lot of experience, is a strong representative for rural Arizona and is needed as a politician who works well with both political parties.

Termed-out District 23 Sen. Pete Rios said limits are a disservice to his constituents because legislators with more seniority have more clout and get better leadership positions.

Bruce Merrill, an Arizona State University professor in the college of public programs, sees term limits as a failure and predicted their demise.

"The main consequences of term limits, and what we saw happen in the Arizona Legislature, is they destroy any continuity and leadership and give more power to special interest groups and professional staff," he said.

He estimated only 1 or 2 percent of termed-out legislators chose to run again.

Former East Valley congressman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon honored his self-imposed term limit in 2000 by stepping down from the U.S. House after six years.

"I think to just switch places without sitting out a term violates the spirit of the law," he said.

But he predicted that the negative impact on the candidates' re-election campaigns would be minimal.

"I think honestly the whole fervor over term limits has really passed," he said.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-7949.

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