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SHOULD UTAH IMPOSE LIMITS ON TERMS OF ITS OFFICIALS?

Utahns can expect to hear plenty of arguments over the drive to put on the 1994 ballot a proposition to limit the terms in office of this state's elected officials plus Utah's congressional delegation.

That much already was clear from polls showing that most Utahns favor term limits. Now the movement can expect to gain new momentum from this week's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which let stand a term limitation law in California.But there are sharp limits to how much comfort Utah proponents of term limits can take from the new ruling. The California law applied only to state officials, not members of Congress. There are reasons for thinking that efforts in Utah and elsewhere to apply term limits to members of Congress as well as state officials would be struck down by the courts as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Besides, experience in the state of Washington shows that term limits can start out with solid support in the opinion polls but still get rejected on election day after a hard-hitting education campaign.

As Utahns consider the merits of term limits, they should know a few key facts:

- In Utah, the average member of the Legislature already serves no more than the eight years that would be imposed as a limit by the proposed new initiative.

- In the U.S. House of Representatives, more than half of the present members have served 10 years or less.

- Term limits are arbitrary, forcing out competent and effective officials along with the duds and deadwood.

- Though polls show the public is fed up with Congress for its inept handling of a variety of problems, the same polls also show the voters are usually satisfied with their own individual lawmakers. How much sense does it make to punish an individual lawmaker for shortcomings of his colleagues and the institution in which he or she serves?

- Likewise, how much sense does it make to lump state legislators and other Utah officials in with members of Congress, punishing Utah's public servants for blunders made in the nation's capital?

Despite this week's Supreme Court ruling, the fact remains that term limitation plans put voters in the position of making a single, sweeping decision. Instead, decisions about who should serve in elected office and how long they should be kept on the job are best made candidate by candidate and year by year.