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History of Arkansas Term Limits

Pre 1992 – Elections and candidates are controlled by political parties. Politicians stay in the legislature forever!

1992 – VOTERS APPROVE TERM LIMITS! Citizens from all over Arkansas came together to support a ballot initiative that would help bring an end to career politicians in the Arkansas Legislature by setting limits on how long they can serve. With an all-volunteer effort, they collected over 100,000 petition signatures and got it on the ballot. On November 3, 1992, it passed with 60% of the vote. Representatives were then limited to three 2-year terms (6 years), and Senators to two 4-year terms (8 years). Legislators could serve in both houses for a total of 14 years, and some did.

2004 – VOTERS KEEP TERM LIMITS! Just 12 years after citizens gathered the signatures to get term limits on the ballot, no small feat, and voters approved them, the politicians tried to undo them. Showing absolutely no respect for the clear will of the people, they put an amendment on the ballot that dramatically weakened term limits. Politicians don’t have to go out and get over 80,000 voter signatures to put something on the ballot like we the people do, they simply take a vote. In 2004, special interests spent over $400,000 trying to convince Arkansas voters that term limits were bad. It didn’t work. The politician’s amendment was defeated with over 70% of the vote. Voters like term limits, politicians don’t.

By 2014, the will of the people had been very clearly expressed in two statewide general elections. They had passed citizen-initiated term limits in 1992 with 60% of the vote, and rebuffed the politicians' 2004 attempt to gut them with 70% of the vote. Only one other ballot initiative in Arkansas history has reached the 70% vote level.

Never underestimate how low politicians are willing to go when their own self-interest is at stake. In 2014, they apparently decided the only way to get rid of term limits and extend their political careers was to trick the voters. It was clear voters would not knowingly get rid of term limits.

Knowing their ballot title would not go before the Arkansas Attorney General for review and approval, sly politicians crafted a deceptive ballot title for a proposed amendment they would refer to the people as Issue 3. Dressed up primarily as ethics reform, the only mention of term limits was the last sentence of a very long ballot title that went on for quite a while about things voters tend to like: Ethics reform; beating up on lobbyists; preventing politicians from taking bribes gifts from lobbyists; Preventing them from taking corporate money; that sort of thing. You had to read a long time before you saw anything about term limits, and even then it was short and deceptive (lying, some would say). Ten words, at the very end: "and establishing term limits for members of the General Assembly."


Of course, we already had term limits. This language was deliberately crafted to mislead the voter in the voting booth, if they read that far down. The politicians wanted to create the false impression that term limits were being "established", when they were really being gutted. The Arkansas Elected Officials Ethics, Transparency and Financial Reform Amendment barely passed with 52% of the vote - a big victory for career politicians.

Voters thought they were voting for ethics reform. They didn’t know the destruction of term limits was buried deep in the ethics amendment. In what is widely considered a brazen fraud perpetrated on the people by the politicians, term limits for Representatives were changed from 6 years to 16. Senators can now serve up to 22 years. Arkansas now has the weakest term limits in the nation, written by politicians for politicians.

Note: Of the 100 Arkansas Representatives and 35 Arkansas Senators, only 7 voted against referring this amendment to the people.

2015-2016 – Good folks across the state joined in an effort to undo the political dirty tricks, to get citizen-initiated term limits on the 2016 ballot. This version restored the voter-approved pre-2014 limits and added a 10 year total “service” limit. It also prohibited the politicians from referring any amendments to change term limits, instead requiring a ballot initiative for any changes. While collecting over 55,000 signatures, the effort fell short of the 84,000 needed to place the amendment on the 2016 ballot.

2017 – We simply won’t give up and let the politician’s dishonesty stand. The people, not politicians, should decide how long these guys get to stay in power. Our new effort to restore real term limits for Arkansas Legislators is already underway. Folks that signed a petition before November 2016 will have to sign again.

In order to succeed this time, to get our initiative on the 2018 ballot to restore citizen-initiated term limits, we must build a bigger army of volunteers. We need more “boots on the ground.” And, of course, we need funding. Won’t you help?