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Lawmaker: Four-year terms for legislators promote responsibility

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PHOENIX – Having state lawmakers serve terms of four years rather than two would promote responsibility and create better relationships across the aisle, according to a legislator who wants Arizonans to vote on the proposal.

“I think four-year terms would give legislators more time to legislate without outside influences distracting them or making the m less responsible to voters,” said Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

Kavanagh authored SCR 1009, which would put four-year terms matter on the 2016 ballot.

“Two-year terms supposedly are beneficial because they make individual legislators more accountable, and they let the voters throw out a whole bunch of legislators if they don’t like the overall policy,” Kavanagh said. “But this virtually never happens because it’s rare for an incumbent legislator to lose an election.”

The resolution would also limit legislators to serving no more than two consecutive terms in the same office over eight years. With the current two-year terms, lawmakers can serve for up to four terms consecutively.

Kavanagh said he has served a total of nine years on two different city councils, one with two-year terms and the other with four-year terms. He said his experience on the latter showed him that four-year terms produce more responsible and knowledgeable representatives.

“With two-year terms, at any one moment, on average, 25 percent of the legislators are new,” Kavanagh said. “They have no knowledge of the processes of the chamber, they don’t know how the rules work, and they often have little background knowledge on issues, so they become very ineffective.”

He also said the longer terms provide elected officials an opportunity to establish themselves and build relationships with members of the other party.

“There’s less partisan bickering,” he said.

Kavanagh’s measure was awaiting action by the full Senate after the Senate Government Committee advanced it Feb. 4 on a 5-2 vote.

Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Cashion, who proposed similar legislation last year, voted in favor.

“My whole thing, and Senator Kavanagh’s I think too, is that we’re always campaigning,” Contreras said. “Instead, let’s stick around for a little bit longer. It’s all about getting here and having three years to really work at what the people put you here to do.”

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, who voted against the resolution, said he felt torn because he recognizes how the change would help improve party relations. He said he would prefer to have only one of the houses with longer terms.

“The two-year term holds us more accountable,” Quezada said. “I do think there’s some value to that.”

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who also voted no, said he thinks the system is fine the way it is.

Kavanagh, the committee’s chairman, said two-year terms boost the influence of campaign contributions and dark money in the Legislature.

“You have twice as many elections as with four-year terms, and this greatly empowers campaign donors, and even dark money people, because every two years they are in play and they’re important,” he said.