SALT LAKE CITY — An initiative limiting the terms of gubernatorial appointees has been filed by a group also seeking a constitutional amendment to keep the governor and other elected state executives from serving more than two terms.
"We think this is an opportunity to open up the executive level of government for fresh ideas," said Rick Larsen, organizer of the Utah Term Limits Now campaign, as well as prevent the "long-term accumulation of power."
Larsen said the effort is not aimed at anyone specifically, although he noted former three-term Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, now facing criminal charges related to alleged corruption in office, is "the example you cannot help but think of."
He said the intent is to follow the two-term limit for presidents in the U.S. Constitution, as well as the actions of 36 states that have set term limits on governors.
"We want to take it to the highest level," he said, describing the governor's appointments as "the literal expansion of the power" that needs to be curbed. "Power is difficult to let go of once you have it."
Gov. Gary Herbert's spokesman, Marty Carpenter, said voters should determine how long an elected official serves, not term limits. Herbert took over as governor in 2009 and is running for a second full, four-year term, in 2016.
"The governor feels voters are best empowered to determine how long public servants should remain in office by making that decision at the ballot box. It matters far more how well elected officials serve than how long they serve," Carpenter said.
The constitutional amendment would take effect in 2017 if approved, preventing Herbert from seeking a third full term. His predecessor, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., tried unsuccessfully in 2005 to impose a two-term limit on governors.
A three-term limit on governors and lawmakers was put in place by the Legislature in 1994 in reaction to an initiative attempting to impose term limits. But lawmakers repealed the term limits in 2003.
This time, Larsen said the 2016 Legislature needs to approve an amendment to the Utah Constitution to limit the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and auditor to two terms in office.
The group's initiative, labeled the Utah Term Limits for Appointed Executive Official Act, would only apply to a governor's appointees to state boards and commissions, limiting them to two terms or no more than 10 years of service.
The initiative must be approved through the lieutenant governor's office, a process that takes about a month. The group will have until mid-April to collect some 102,000 signatures from voters in 26 of the state's 29 Senate districts.
Both the initiative and the constitutional amendment would need voter approval in the November 2016 election to take effect.
Larsen, owner of a marketing and fundraising firm, said the term limits campaign is bipartisan and based in Utah, but declined to say who else was involved. He said more details would be announced soon.
Already a lawyer has been hired and polling has been commissioned from a firm with offices in Washington, D.C. — Wilson Perkins Allen Research — that lists Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as clients.
Larsen said the poll was conducted in April and found 79 percent of Utah voters support term limits for statewide elected officials, while three-quarters of those surveyed want limits on the governor's appointees.
He said it is important for Utahns to do "anything we can do to reinstate confidence at the voter level."
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