By any reasonable standard, Oklahomans could have been considered enthusiastic for term limits; when State Question 632 made it to the ballot in 1990, it passed with more than 67 percent approval. Has incumbent turnover increased? Not so much:
One knock on term limits is that they artificially remove lawmakers with institutional memory, people who’ve been around the block enough times to anticipate problems. That point is not without merit, but Oklahoma’s 12-year term limit for state legislators is hardly draconian. This year provides a reminder. In the House of Representatives, 19 lawmakers are being forced out by term limits. But another 11 are leaving voluntarily, meaning more than one-third of open seats have nothing to do with term limits. For many people, the allure of legislative office is eventually outweighed by the perceived benefits of running for another office or returning to the private sector well before term limits kick in. This is one reason the Oklahoma Policy Institute found the average length of service for House members was greater in 2014 than in 1990. While term limits may slightly increase legislative turnover, their impact appears marginal.
I wonder how much the fat raise given to legislators in 1997 — they now make $38,400 a year plus per diem — might be a factor; some of these guys, you wonder if they could survive in the private sector.