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For the week of Feb 5 - 12, 2002


Idaho first to repeal term limits

Dozen office holders in county granted reprieve

"This debate isn't going to go away. We're going to be back here talking about this—if we're here."

Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum and House Democratic floor leader

Express Staff
and Associated Press

Idaho has become the first state to repeal term limits, reversing a measure that had been approved by voters in 1994.

The measure would have barred more than a dozen city and county officials throughout Blaine County from running for another term.

The state's Republican-controlled Legislature took the term limits law off the books Friday by overriding a veto by GOP Gov. Dirk Kempthorne. That cleared the way for more than 150 county officials throughout the state and the attorney general to run for re-election this year.

In Blaine County government, Sheriff Walt Femling, Treasurer Vicki Dick and Coroner Russ Mikel, who has held the office since 1983, would have been barred from running again. So would have Commissioners Mary Ann Mix and Dennis Wright.

"I haven’t thought a lot about," Wright said. But other officials were more concerned.

Kate Parnes, Howard Royal and Lita Sullivan, who recently resigned, would have been barred from running again for the Blaine County School District Board of Trustees. Combined, their terms in office totaled 30 years.

Losing that experience would harm the board, said school board clerk Cathy Zaccardi. And, "it’s tough to try and find somebody to run," for the nonpaying trustee job.

Sun Valley would have lost Councilman Kevin Laird after 2004 and Mayor Dave Wilson after 2003. Ketchum Councilwoman Chris Potters would not have been allowed to run again in 2005. Neither would have Hailey Councilwoman Martha Burke.

Bellevue officials, however, would not have been affected, because they do not run in districts, said city attorney Jim Phillips.

Hailey officials interpreted the law as applying to government appointees and declined to reappoint P&Z commissioner Becky Keefer in January.

Some lawmakers warned that the override would backfire and term limits supporters could put the issue back before voters this fall.

"This debate isn't going to go away," House Democratic floor leader Wendy Jaquet, of Ketchum, said. "We're going to be back here talking about this—if we're here."

The Idaho measure was approved by 60 percent of the voters in 1994, the same year the GOP took power in both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years and its "Contract With America" promoted citizen legislators over "career politicians."

The Idaho Republican Party once supported term limits as a way to end the careers of liberal Democratic members of Congress.

But two years ago, party officials began calling for a repeal, saying that local officials were never supposed to be the target and that term limits were depriving communities of experienced politicians, especially in sparsely populated rural areas that struggle to fill local offices.

Critics of term limits also accused such out-of-state groups as U.S. Term Limits of financing slick campaigns that misled Idaho voters eight years ago.

"How can someone who's from the Potomac know what's best for the city council in Orofino, Idaho?" Democratic state Rep. Charles Cuddy asked.

Supporters of term limits said such an argument was an insult to voters.

"Do we really believe the people of this state don't know an incumbent has an advantage at the ballot box?" said Rep. David Callister. "These people are not fools."

Stacie Rumenap, executive director of Washington-based U.S. Term Limits, said Idaho's lawmakers had invalidated the choice of their constituents.

Idaho's term limits law restricted school board and county commissioners to six years of service in any 11-year period and all other elected state, city and county offices to eight years in any 15-year period. State legislators would not have been affected until 2004.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.