Plain Talk: Pioneer in North Dakota term limits policy says term limits measure is ‘anti-North Dakota’


MINOT, N.D. — You can’t really talk about the history of North Dakota’s initiated measure process without talking about Kent French. The Bismarck-based businessman was legendary in the 1980s and 1990s for his many initiated measures and referenda targeting issues like taxes.

And, yes, term limits.

We’re debating term limits again this election cycle — there’s a ballot measure that would prohibit lawmakers and governors from serving more than eight years — but you may not realize that North Dakota already has term limits law on the books.

That’s thanks to Mr. French, who backed an initiated measure to limit the amount of time North Dakota’s congressional delegation could serve in office. That law isn’t in force, because the Supreme Court ruled that state-based term limits for members of Congress aren’t constitutional, but it was supported by a strong majority of North Dakota voters at the time.

But it may surprise you to learn that French doesn’t back this current term limits proposal for state-level elected officials. He joined this episode of Plain Talk to discuss his objections.

“You always want to be on the right side of an issue,” he told me. “Not just the winning side, the right side.”

He mentioned polling, released by the term limits campaign, which shows a strong majority of North Dakotans backing their proposal, but French thinks the more voters learn about it the less they like it. “They have that until the people of North Dakota learn what this does.”

French sees a distinction between people who hold state-level elected office, and those who serve in Congress. “We have the right of referral” in North Dakota, French noted, referencing a law that allows voters to collect signatures to put a law the legislature doesn’t like on the ballot for a possible veto by the people.

He also noted that voters could recall to the ballot any state-level elected official voters don’t like. “I think that’s the route people should take,” as opposed to term limits.

He described this term limits proposal as “anti-North Dakota” and promoted by people who are just seeking chaos.

“I don’t know that this gives the state the stability it has had in the past,” French said.

Listen to the full interview. If you’d like to be notified of future episodes of Plain Talk consider subscribing — it’s free! — on the podcast platform of your choice .