Signature gathering starts for Utah term limits initiative

A drive begun by the United Utah Party to limit terms for elected state officials has received a green light to start collecting that 115,000-plus signatures needed to put the initiative on the ballot.

The office of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox has reviewed the proposal and forms by Unite for Term Limits to ensure it meets state requirements, and certified that it held required public hearings, the group said in a press release.

The drive proposes limiting state legislators to serving no more than 12 consecutive years and limiting other state elected executives to no more than eight.

The group figures it needs to collect more than the minimum of 115,000 signatures required to ensure it is on the ballot

“We are aiming to collect more than that because of possible duplicate signatures, ineligible signers, incomplete entries, retractions and the like,” said David Westerby, a sponsor of the initiative.

“We can’t just get signatures from the populous counties. We need a strong representation of voters from at least 26 of the state’s 29 Senate districts” as required by state law, he added.

Several initiatives barely survived final counts in 2018 because of such issues. Also, one ballot initiative that initially appeared to survive — aiming to cement Utah’s system of allowing candidates to qualify for the ballot either by collecting signature or through conventions — was removed after opponents convinced just enough signers to retract their names by deadlines.

United Utah Party Chairman Richard Davis has said the goal of the term-limit drive is to restore the ideal of citizen service and discourage career politicians.

“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 that their career becomes more important than their constituents,” he said earlier.

Utah has seen a surge of interest in initiatives recently, with three passing in 2018.

Two of those three — legalizing medical marijuana and expanding Medicaid — were repealed and replaced by diluted laws by state legislators. The third, creating an independent redistricting commission, is expected to face amendments or repeal efforts next year.

Other groups are also considering new ballot initiatives. Clean the Darn Air is considering one to enact a carbon tax. The Utah Consumer Coalition is exploring one that would allow higher-strength beer to be served on tap.

Utah lawmakers passed a 12-year term limit law in 1994 to head off a ballot initiative. The Legislature later repealed the law before it affected any officeholder.