By JAMES MacPHERSON Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Republican legislative majority leaders on Wednesday predicted a narrow defeat by voters on a measure to impose term limits on lawmakers and the governor.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner and GOP House Majority Leader Chet Pollert told The Associated Press that an increasing number of organizations that have surfaced recently against the measure, which has helped offset a well-funded out-of-state group that got the issue on the ballot.
Wardner and Pollert, both of whom are retiring at the end of the year, were among GOP and Democratic lawmakers, business leaders, lobbyists and others who spoke out against the measure during a news conference at the state Capitol.
Wardner said that until recently, he believed the measure likely would be approved by a wide margin because of the efforts by U.S. Term Limits, a Washington-based group that has contributed more than $810,000 in the past two years to get the ballot proposal before voters.
Lawmakers and opponents have raised no money to combat out-of-state interests and have relied on social media, letters to the editor and word of mouth to persuade voters term limits are a bad idea.
Wednesday was the first large public gathering of the measure's foes. No groups have contributed money to oppose the measure. No other large public gatherings are planned at present before Election Day, the leaders said.
Jared Hendrix, chair of the measure's sponsoring committee, attended the news conference and said the foes who showed up — including many lobbyists — were predictable and simply fighting to retain the status quo.
Hendrix dismissed the argument that longtime lawmakers are needed to fully understand such things as budgets and tax policy. He suggested simplified budgets and taxation, while incorporating better training for freshman lawmakers during legislative sessions to guide them.
Measure 1 would add a new article to the state constitution, effective Jan. 1, imposing term limits of eight cumulative years each in the House and Senate. The governor could not be elected more than twice. Term limits would not be retroactive, so the service of current officeholders would not count against them.
The lawmakers and other opponents call it an attack on voters' rights to choose the candidate they want and argue that it diminishes institutional knowledge and shifts power to lobbyists, agencies and the governor.
Supporters say term limits bring in new blood and increase voter participation.
Wardner and Pollert said they are encouraged by the more than two dozen organizations around the state — from farm and education groups to chambers of commerce — that have recently come out publicly against the measure.
"It will be close, but at least now we have a chance," said Pollert, who served as the House majority leader for two legislative sessions and in the Legislature for 24 years.
Wardner said he's hopeful because he is not aware of any statewide organization that believe terms limits is a good idea.
"All these groups have come out against it, and not one organization has been for it," said Wardner, who has served in the Legislature since 1990.
Fifteen states have term limits for lawmakers; 36 states have gubernatorial term limits.
U.S. Term Limits also helped fund a failed term-limit campaign in 1996 in North Dakota, contributing more than $100,000 toward that effort.