Composition of Legislatures

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Contribution to Books

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In 2003, a group called Oregon Term Limits began an effort to reinstate legislative term limits in their state. The preamble to their proposal initiative is a concise statement about some of the presumed benefits of a term limit law. It reads: "WHEREAS: Limiting the terms of legislators promotes varied public representations, broadens opportunities for public service, and makes the electoral process fairer by reducing the power of incumbency and the professional lobby..." (see

There are at least four separate assumptions in this statement. First, it is assumed that term limits will create a broader demographic mix within the legislature ("promotes...public representation"). Second, it suggests that more people -- presumably average citizens -- will be able to serve ("broadens opportunities for public service"). Third, it suggests that electoral competition will increase ("reducing the power of incumbency"). Finally, it presumes that lobbyists will lose influence ("reducing the power of...the professional lobby.")

In this chapter, we examine the evidence as it bears on the first of these assumptions.

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