Term limits for NJ’s legislators? Fat chance
One New Jersey lawmaker stands alone in his five-time quest to impose term limits for state senators and Assembly members.
Legislative redistricting after the 2010 U.S. Census created almost exclusively non-competitive races, with districts heavily favoring one party or the other. Under this structure if an incumbent decides to run, he or she is almost guaranteed to win.
That leaves an obvious question: Why would any legislators vote themselves out of a job?
“Races are no longer competitive,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton). “If you had a 10-year term limit at least every 10 years you’ll have fresh blood that’s guaranteed in the legislative process.”
If the legislature ever approved it, a measure first introduced by Gusciora in 2010 would put a question on the ballot asking Garden State voters if they’d like the decade term limit to be the law. There's no Senate version of the bill. Even Gusciora wasn't optimistic that the legislation would move.
“It is indeed difficult getting people who are already in the caucus to vote for it. That is always the challenge in elective office. People like to hold onto the power that they have,” Gusciora admitted.
The assemblyman said maybe the next major scandal or a public push would spur the legislature to act on his bill, but he conceded that maybe nothing will.
One political expert said it was extremely unlikely that the legislation would see the light of day.
“If you’re essentially saying that I’m going to vote to vote myself out of office, that goes against everything politicians are trained to do from the time they get there,” said Matt Hale, a political science professor at Seton Hall University. “I certainly don’t think politicians are going to elect to un-elect themselves.”
In September of 2015, Stockton University released "New Jersey State Legislature: A Demographic Profile" While the study did not address term limits it did provide information about the issue of incumbency.
According to the report:
• The median number in office was 9.3 years.
• 57 percent of Garden State lawmakers have been in office for 10 years or less.
• 34 percent have served for five years or less.
• About 20 percent of legislators has served for between 11 and 15 years
• About 10 percent have served for 16 to 20 years.
• 13 percent have served for more than 20 years.
There’s always the argument that if there were term limits that all of our problems would be solved, Hale said — but he also said he didn’t think that’s true.
Seventy-four percent of Assembly members have been legislators for 10 years or less, but just 23 percent of the Senate members have been in the Legislature for 10 years or less according to the Stockton report.
Currently, Sen. Dick Codey (D-Livingston) is the longest-serving New Jersey legislator, having entered the legislature in 1974. David Russo (R-Midland Park) is the longest-serving member of the assembly. He took office in 1990.
Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.