COLUMBIA, S.C. — Should South Carolina lawmakers face term limits in the Legislature?
That is what one first-term Republican state senator wants voters to decide.
State Sen. Richard Cash, of Anderson, filed legislation — S. 944 — this month that if approved would let the state ask voters on the ballot whether the state’s Constitution should be changed to allow term limits for legislators. If voters approve the measure, Cash said lawmakers would have to file legislation to set the term limits and pass the legislation in the S.C. House and Senate.
But to actually get the question on the ballot, two-thirds of the S.C. House and Senate would have to approve the amendment.
Fifteen states currently have term limits for state legislators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“I think term limits keep the electoral process a little bit more open in the sense that the longer a legislator is in Columbia, the harder it becomes to unseat them due to the accumulation of name ID within their district as well and other advantages that come with incumbency,” Cash said.
But term-limit legislation has been tried before and failed, including a 2018 measure that Cash co-sponsored.
“It’s always debated,” said state Senate President Harvey Peeler, a Cherokee Republican who has been in the Legislature for 39 years, one of six state senators who has been in the Legislature for at least 30 years. “As someone who has been re-elected as many times as I have, I think I’ve served my constituents well, and it’s shown at the ballot box.”
Should the Legislature enact term limits, Cash said under his plan no current legislator would be forced out right away. Rather, the clock would start running from when the term limits are established.
Elected in 2017 through a special election, Cash said he eventually wants to see the Legislature set limits of three, four year-terms for senators — who are elected every four years — and six, two-year terms for House members. Cash said he is open to negotiating.
Among the current state senators, the median tenure is 12 years, while current House members — up for re-election every two years — have a median tenure of seven years, according to The State’s analysis of lawmakers’ years of service.
Meanwhile, South Carolina’s governor is limited to two four-year terms.
“That’s why I didn’t want to put the specific terms in the constitutional change, because I wanted to have some flexibility there for people who agree for the need for term limits but disagree on what they should be,” Cash said.
Cash said his proposal is not aimed at any particular legislator.
“People who have different ideas, they see things differently,” Cash said. “The question becomes what’s the sweet spot where they understand how the process works, and yet not so entrenched where they’re immune from being defeated?”