Alabama term limit debate resurfaces in Montgomery, but what are its chances of passage?

The public's dislike of Congress is near all-time highs. The Alabama Legislature isn't all that popular, either.

"Kick the bums out!" the political shock jocks declare.

Incumbency, in politics, usually rules on Election Day, but there are signs that term limits are gaining true momentum, at least in Montgomery.

This spring, state lawmakers will consider an amendment to the state Constitution to restrict House and Senate members to three four-year terms. It's a familiar bill, having been pitched unsuccessfully for the past seven years by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose.

But unlike previous years, when Pittman's bills hit walls and died, the nation's political mood has changed.

"There are people who believe in it and support it," Pittman said.

Donald Trump won the presidency on Nov. 8 thanks, in part, to a populist campaign that included calls to "drain the swamp" by imposing term limits on Congress.

A recent proposal, backed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., would establish a U.S. constitutional amendment that limits senators to two six-year terms and House members to three, two-year terms.

The concept as the backing of Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne of Fairhope who recently signed on as a co-sponsor to House Joint Resolution 50, which imposes similar caps on tenure.

Alabama Reps. Bradley Byrne (left) and Mo Brooks (right) are both proponents of term limits. 

"I have long been a supporter of term limits, and I was pleased to see President Trump make this a major piece of his campaign agenda," Byrne said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, is the other Alabama co-sponsor to the joint resolution.

But not every Alabama member of Congress is supportive. According to Torrie Matous, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby: "Senator Shelby believes that the founding fathers provided term limits directly in the Constitution. Voters have the opportunity to elect their senators at the ballot box every six years."

Popular and complex

Trump's victory revived the term limit push that had been relatively dormant in recent years, although it remained popular in public polling.

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 75 percent of adults who were surveyed said they would vote in favor of term limits. Of those, 82 percent identified themselves as Republicans, while 65 percent were Democrats.

An October 2016 Rasmussen poll found that 74 percent of 1,000 likely U.S. voters favored term limits for all members of Congress.

Only 15 states have term limits for its state legislative bodies, a whittled down number compared to the nearly two dozen states with similar restrictions in the mid-1990s. State supreme courts and legislatures rescinded voter-imposed limits in a handful of states.

In 1995, the U.S. House turned down a term-limits constitutional amendment. Later, the Supreme Court ruled that state legislatures couldn't impose term limits on their congressional delegations.

But legislators can still put clamps on their state office-holders.

Alabama joins 35 other states that place term limits on the governor. But, thus far, efforts to restrict legislative terms haven't generated much enthusiasm in Montgomery.

Studies have shown mixed outcomes from term limits on legislators. For example, a 2006 analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures suggested that term limits didn't bring new waves of women or minorities into office, but they did have the effect of concentrating power in executive hands.

"I've talked to folks who said that when you have that rapid turnover, the lobbyists become the leaders," said Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne. "It also takes a long time to really learn how to do the legislative process."

Chance of passage

Pittman, who is leaving his state Senate seat in 2018, has pitched the issue each year since 2010.

From 2011-2015, his bill advanced out of a Senate committee but was never voted on by the full chamber. In 2010 and 2016, it never surfaced for a committee hearing.

Some lawmakers believe it's in for a similar rough handling in 2017.

"I support the legislation but it has traditionally had a hard time of gaining a majority of the votes for final passage in the Senate," said Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

"It's a puzzle to me why it's so difficult to get through the Legislature," said Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, a supporter of term limits. "Some of it is philosophy in that we already have term limits because you can vote (candidates) in or out."

Still, he explains, the clamor for term limits is rising in the public arena. "And we'll have an election in two years where there could be a tremendous turnover in the Legislature," he said. "I think because of that, it might have a chance at passage this time."

If senators pass Pittman's bill, House hurdles will certainly remain.

"Why do we need term limits when we have elections?" said Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden. "I don't think the government should tell the voters who they can and can't for vote."

Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said he looks forward to the debate on the issue, but it's something he may not support.

"Personally, I'm a strong supporter of the ballot box and believe that term limits are set every time there is an election," he said.

Davis is skeptical, too. He pointed out that he's in his fourth term after being elected in 2002.

He said, "My first two terms were as a minority member of a Legislature as a Republican and I served as the Democrats were in charge. ... My last two terms are as Republicans are in charge and it's a day and night difference as far as the ability to work legislation and to work on the key issues you are interested in."

Pittman is undeterred. He said, "The more you stay (in Montgomery) ... your new friends are not necessarily the citizens who elected you."

This story was updated at 6:19 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, to include comments from Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon.

photo Alabama term limit debate resurfaces in Montgomery, but what are its chances of passage? images

photo of Alabama term limit debate resurfaces in Montgomery, but what are its chances of passage?

Article Alabama term limit debate resurfaces in Montgomery, but what are its chances of passage? compiled by www.al.com

Relax Alabama term limit debate resurfaces in Montgomery, but what are its chances of passage? stories

Look inside Alabama's oldest prison

Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn led reporters on tours of Draper Correctional Facility, which opened in 1939, as well as Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.

More stories