Joan Barron: Term Limits For Legislature; The Story Of Two States

Columnist Joan Barron writes, "The loss of institutional knowledge is why I have consistently opposed term limits for legislators. Wyoming has a high turnover every election and while there are some members who serve for many years, the vast majority do not.

Joan Barron

May 18, 20244 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

CHEYENNE — I usually find it interesting to check on what the State of Colorado is doing.

This is because the neighbor to the south is so diametrically opposed to Wyoming’s in its politics and government.

Colorado is bright blue; Wyoming is bright red.

Colorado is a harbor state for migrants. Wyoming is not. In fact the secretary of state Chuck Gray, fears we will see carloads of immigrations barging in, desperate to vote in our elections.

Colorado legalized marijuana; Wyoming has not. Colorado has term limits for state officials including legislators and governors; Wyoming does not, except for governor. More about that later.

The two states also are different in that the Colorado Legislature has had a Republican party in the majority in recent years.

Wyoming’s Democratic party hasn’t had a majority in both houses of the Legislature for 85 years, having lost many seats in the 1938 election.

The party revived somewhat in the 1950’s in the state house and had a split vote in the senate in the mid 1970’s. But since then it’s been an uphill struggle which has been the pattern in many Republican dominated western states.

In Colorado the reverse took place; the Democrats took over from the Republicans in 2019 after years of GOP majority.

Because of the favorable vote for the initiative, Colorado residents this year residents knew early on who will be leaving office.

Wyoming won’t know until candidate filing starts. The Colorado Sun reported that six senators —four Democrats and two Republicans—are leaving office and taking their institutional knowledge with them.

The 19 member House Republican caucus is losing all but one of its members. Some are running for the senate or congress but nevertheless they won’t be in the house to share their knowledge.

The loss of institutional knowledge is why I have consistently opposed term limits for legislators, particularly. Wyoming has a high turnover every election and while there are some members who serve for many years, the vast majority do not.

Colorado Democrats meanwhile control the governor, secretary of state attorney general and both houses of the Legislature.

Reverse that in Wyoming where Republicans hold all those positions.

But with both states, the chance of a change in the majority party is not being forecast for the foreseeable future.

The push for term limits began in the early 1900’s. The Republican platform in the 1994 election, “Contract With America,” called for congressional term limits.

But the legislation failed to ignite in Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court said the states cannot impose term limits on their federal representatives or senators.

Thus foiled, the movement on congressional limits died. But the state term limits lived on.

Colorado law allows their state to adopt constitutional amendment through the ballot initiative.

Wyoming law does not.

Although 77 percent of the Wyoming voters who cast ballots the1992 election supported term limits, the Wyoming Supreme Court tin 2004 threw out the term limits for legislators as unconstitutional.

Later, the Wyoming Supreme Court through a petition from outgoing Secretary of State Max Maxfield, also threw out term limits for the four elected officials, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and state superintendent of public instruction.

The governor was left out.

“We decline Mr. Maxfield’s invitation to address the qualifications for governor,” the unanimous supreme court opinion said. Period. No explanation.

And so there it sits. Waiting to be petitioned, challenged or whatever. First you have to find a governor who wants a third term. Maybe there will be none. Maybe they get sick to death of the job and want to get out.

Still, there’s the prestige, the state plane and the mansion…

Contact Joan Barron at 307-632-2534 or

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Joan Barron

Political Columnist