Proposal would allow term limits for CT governor, add voter initiatives

"We at Common Cause are very interested in having as many people as possible participate in our elections, our government, to run for office, and be part of the process," said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause Connecticut.

Republicans in the General Assembly have proposed legislation that would allow voters to force statewide balloting on selected issues, recall elected officials and create term limits for the governor.

But with solid Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate, the GOP proposals are unlikely to succeed or even reach the upcoming public hearing phase of the legislative session.

Still, for veteran state Rep. Tami Zawistowski of East Granby, who regularly has submitted constitutional amendment bills on referendum, direct initiatives and recall since her election in 2013, it is the principle of more voter power that keeps her working on the issues.

“I put in those bills every two years,” Zawistowski said in a phone interview. “I think it’s really more or less a statement that citizens’ voices are heard a little bit more than now. I feel pretty strongly about it. Whether you agree with the results of it, it is so important for citizens to bring forward what they are really concerned about.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 states have a popular-referendum process, while 24 states, mostly west of the Mississippi River, allow direct initiatives. In the Northeast, the best-known example is the 2016 Massachusetts voter initiative that legalized adult use and sales of cannabis.

The difference between the initiative process and referendum is the former allows voters to bypass their legislatures through the placement of proposed new laws on the ballot while referendums give voters the chance to repeal laws approved by legislatures.

“Here in the state of Connecticut, our legislators are responsive to the requests of our people,” said state Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, co-chairwoman of the legislative Government Administration & Elections Committee, who was first elected to the General Assembly in 2008. She recalled that in 2021, Connecticut was one of the first states in the country to approve adult-use cannabis through the legislative process.

“We have very short terms,” Flexer said. “Voters get a chance to change legislators every two years.”

Other pending GOP proposals to change the state Constitution include one to allow the recall of elected officials; a requirement for two-third votes in the House and Senate in order to enact more unfunded mandates on towns an cities; and term limits on the governor.

The modern record for longevity in the governor’s office is 10 years of service by William A. O’Neill, who was Gov. Ella Grasso’s lieutenant governor when she died in 1980 and then won two elections. The record length of services is held by John Winthrop, the colonial-era governor from New London who served 18 years, until 1676.

Flexer said during a phone interview Tuesday that committee leadership will review the various proposals. The legislative session ends at midnight June 7, but the GAE Committee’s deadline to approve bills is March 29. Changes to the Constitution are particularly hard to enact because unless proposals are overwhelmingly approved, they must be passed by two consecutive General Assemblies. The early voting amendment to the Constitution approved in November was first approved by consecutive legislatures.

Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, the elections watchdog organization, said Tuesday she doubts the proposed GOP bills will see much life.

“These are not things that ever come out of committees here,” Quickmire said. “Consider the time it takes to make anything happen that involves the Constitution. People have the ability to elect their direct representatives and make their point in that way. We at Common Cause are very interested in having as many people as possible participate in our elections, our government, to run for office, and be part of the process.”