Rep. Karen Gerrish of Lebanon is among two York County state legislators supporting congressional term limits. Heidi Sampson of Alfred also supports the measure. COURTESY PHOTO

Rep. Karen Gerrish of Lebanon is among two York County state legislators supporting congressional term limits. Heidi Sampson of Alfred also supports the measure. COURTESY PHOTO

YORK COUNTY — Two York County Republican legislators have signed a pledge supporting a term limits constitutional convention.

The initiative seeks to limit the terms of members of the U.S. Congress and is sponsored by U.S. Term Limits, a nonprofit Washington, D.C., entity formed in the 1990s to advocate for term limits at all levels of government. 

Rep. Karen Gerrish, who represents Acton, part of Shapleigh and her hometown of Lebanon, and Rep. Heidi Sampson, who represents parts of Limerick, Parsonsfield and Shapleigh, and all of Newfield and Alfred, where she lives, have both signed the pledge in recent days.

“I have always supported term limits,” said Gerrish, who is in her second term as a member of the Maine House of Representatives. “No public servant was meant to or be expected to stay in office for 20, 30, or even in some federal cases, 40 years. How is that a good thing?”

“People start out with great intentions, but human nature is human nature and if you do something long enough, you’re a little less attentive or not as (keenly) focused  as someone new coming in,” said Sampson, who is serving her first term as a Maine legislator.

Also signing was Rep. Nathan Wadsworth of Hiram, who has  sponsored  a Legislative resolution to propose an Article V congressional term limits constitutional amendment convention. 

 The process for call a constitutional convention is lengthy. According to the Federal Register,  a U.S. government publication of the National Archives, the Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures. A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths –  38 of the 50 states.

It is unclear what sort of term limits a constitutional convention might offer. According to Ken Quinn og Bridgton,  the Northeast Director for  the U.S. Term Limits organization, that would be up to the convention.  

He said a proposal before Congress — the alternative to a constitutional convention, would limit the U.S. Senators to two six-year terms, while the members of the U.S. House would be restricted to three two-year terms.

So far, according to Quinn, Florida is the only state that has passed the resolution.

Maine voters approved term limits for state legislators in 1993. Legislators are limited to four consecutive two-year terms in the Maine House or Senate, but once they reach the limit in one chamber of the Legislature, they can run and serve another four terms in the other. Or, once their four consecutive terms are up, they can sit out a term, and run again.

Sampson said she understands the spirit behind the Maine law, but said she believes limits should be limits.

“When you’re done, you’re done,” she said.

Sampson, who until recently taught government and civics to homeschoolers, noted Ben Franklin’s thoughts about money and power.

“The Constitution primarily is designed to deal with human nature —  and human nature is going to go after power and money if hey can get it and have it together,” Sampson said. “When you put power and money (together) they will move heaven and earth to keep that power and I think that is an underling problem we’re facing.”  

She pointed out that incumbents are hard to beat.

Gerrish, for her part, said bouncing  back and forth between the House and Senate in Maine is the same effect as not having term limits at all.

“There are many ways one can contribute to their community and serve rather than being a lifetime legislator,” Gerrish said. “Citizen representation in the Legislature or Congress should not be a career.”

As to her support of federal term limits, Gerrish said, “Too many times we will see federal pieces of legislation that are pork filled with costly projects for bill sponsors back home Washington is renowned for this and I’ve repeatedly seen such pork right here in Augusta. When I hear DC referred to as a swamp, I second that. It is time to clean house, both sides of the aisle, bring in new blood and term limits. Don’t let anyone stay long enough to be comfortable.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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