There might not be a more ardent proponent of term limits in Carroll County than Del. Haven Shoemaker.
The Republican state delegate was part of the 59th Board of County Commissioners that voted for and requested legislation in 2011 that would limit members of that board to consecutive two-year terms; then, in his first term representing District 5 in Annapolis, he submitted a bill that placed similar limits on Board of Education members, which was later ratified into law by Carroll County voters.
“My feeling is that two terms should generally be enough for anyone — from dog catcher on up, and that's why I've pledged to term limit myself,” Shoemaker wrote in an email Wednesday, the first day of the 2018 legislative session. “I believe Congress should do the same.”
So it should come as no surprise that Shoemaker is an “enthusiastic supporter” of Gov. Larry Hogan’s call for term limits on members of the Maryland General Assembly.
Hogan announced his proposal Tuesday, on the eve of the 90-day legislative session in Annapolis. It would limit lawmakers to two consecutive four-year terms and would be subject to a referendum of voters. In announcing the legislation, Hogan said it would not force any current long-serving lawmakers out of office. Hogan said its passage would limit professional politicians that the founding fathers never envisioned and “out-of-control partisanship.”
Shoemaker, who is seeking a second term in the House in 2018, said he had not introduced his own term limits legislation because he thought it would have a “slim-to-none chance for success,” but fully intends to co-sponsor Hogan’s bill. Still, he admits it will be an uphill battle to get it passed, even if he believes it is needed.
“We have some folks down here who have been in office since I was in elementary school,” said Shoemaker, who turns 53 later this month. “Leadership is entrenched.”
Del. Susan Krebs, who began her 16th year in the House of Delegates on Wednesday and is seeking a fifth term in the 2018 election, has reservations about the proposal, but said she’s willing to listen to discussion on the merits of the legislation once it’s filed.
In Carroll, she said, the voters are good at looking at a candidate’s track record and determining whether to let them stay every four years at the ballot box.
However, she didn’t close the door on supporting the governor’s term limit proposal.
“I look forward to having a robust discussion on the pros and cons,” Krebs said, “… [and] listening to what our constituents have to say about it.”
State Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5, called Hogan’s initiative “really positive” for Annapolis and the General Assembly, part of a legislative agenda to “really clean up and bring real reform and change.”
While he hadn’t seen the bill yet, Ready said he plans to support the legislation. He said it could give Maryland a clean slate.
Ready is seeking re-election to his Senate seat after being appointed in 2015 after it was vacated by then-Sen. Joseph Getty, who first took a seat in Hogan’s Cabinet and was later appointed a judge to the Maryland Court of Appeals. Ready won his first term to the House in 2010, then was re-elected to that seat in November 2014, before his appointment to the other chamber.
Del. April Rose, who was tapped to replace Ready in the House in 2015, is seeking her first elected term this year. She also spoke favorably of term limits.
“I absolutely support term limits at every level,” she wrote in an email Wednesday. “I am happy that Gov. Hogan has made this one of his priorities.”
Common Cause Maryland told The Baltimore Sun that term limits would give lobbyists more power over General Assembly members because it would reduce the institutional knowledge within lawmakers’ ranks.
Many new lawmakers are placed on committees of which they have little background knowledge. Damon Effingham, acting director of Common Cause, told The Sun that problem “is greatly exacerbated by a term limit.”
Dozens of the 141 members of the state House of Delegates and more than a third of of the 47 senators have served more than two terms in Annapolis.
The presiding officers of both chambers, both Democrats, are noteworthy for their longevity. House Speaker Michael E. Busch has led the lower chamber for 15 years, longer than any other speaker in the state’s history. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller is the longest-serving leader of any state’s upper chamber, with a tenure of 31 years.
Critics of term limits argue that voters already have a mechanism to limit so-called career politicians — an election every four years.
Lawmakers have considered term limits in 10 General Assembly sessions since 1996, including in each of the past two years. None of the bills has advanced out of committees or come up for votes.
Enacting the policy would require an amendment to Maryland’s Constitution, which requires the approval of three-fifths of each chamber of the legislature and then of a majority of voters.
Fifteen states impose term limits on legislators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Six other states have imposed such limits, but the policies have been thrown out by courts or repealed. No state has passed term limits since 2000.
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Carroll County Times staffers Emily Chappell and S. Wayne Carter Jr. and Baltimore Sun reporters Scott Dance, Erin Cox and Michael Dresser contributed to this report.