United Utah Party wants to impose term limits on state elected leaders through a ballot initiative

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) United Utah Party chairman Richard Davis speaks to a small gathering as the party held its first Salt Lake County convention to elect county officers on Saturday, October 28, 2017.

Twelve consecutive years in office would be the new maximum for state lawmakers under a proposed ballot initiative planned by the United Utah Party.

The party — which pitches itself as a centrist alternative to the state’s Republican and Democratic organizations — announced its plans Monday to seek voter approval to impose a three-term limit on state senators, six-term limit on state representatives, and an eight-year cap on the statewide positions of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and auditor.

“The goal is to restore the ideal of citizen service and discourage career politicians,” United Utah Party Chairman Richard Davis said in a statement. “What we are proposing is a reasonable term limit that still allows elected officials to serve long enough to make a difference, but not so long their career becomes more important than their constituents.”

Utah has seen a surge of interest in initiatives in recent years, with three such efforts successfully qualifying for the ballot and earning majority support of voters in 2018.

Two of those three initiatives — legalizing medical marijuana and expanding the state’s Medicaid program — were repealed and replaced with more restrictive laws by state lawmakers. The third, creating an independent redistricting commission to recommend new voting maps for the state, is expected to face amendments or repeal efforts next year.

United Utah’s campaign to enact term limits follows an effort by the group Clean the Darn Air to enact a carbon tax in the state. And the Utah Consumer Coalition is exploring whether to run an initiative campaign to allow higher-strength beers to be served on tap.

Davis said the initiative route makes it harder for lawmakers to “play games” with the voters, pointing to a term limit law approved by the Utah Legislature in 1994 in the face of a similar ballot initiative. That law was subsequently repealed in 2003, before any elected member of state government hit the limit.

“We prefer the legislative process,” Davis said, “but we know that legislators will not seriously limit their own terms.”

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he’s regularly told by peers in other states that term limits are a mistake. There’s already signifiant turnover in the Utah Legislature, Adams said, and capping years of service shifts the state’s institutional memory away from elected leaders and toward unelected government staff.

“I’m opposed to term limits,” Adams said. “Obviously the initiative can run, but I think it isn’t something I’d support.”

As part of its announcement, United Utah launched a website making a case for term limits. The party argues that restricting the time a person can serve in state office would eliminate political entitlement, decrease the advantage held by incumbent candidates, and improve the legislative process through the regular addition of new ideas and perspectives.

“If it gets on the ballot," Davis said, “we are confident it will pass.”