LOGAN – When the issue of term limits is mentioned in the race for the GOP nomination in Utah’s 25th Senate District, it is important to separate the apples from the oranges.
The challenger in that contest, businessman Chris Wilson, has made incumbent Sen. Lyle Hillyard’s tenure of more than three decades in the Utah Legislature into a campaign issue.
If elected, Wilson pledges to serve no more than three terms in the state Senate. Wilson’s campaign literature also touts the need for new perspectives, new leadership and a new approach to taxes and government spending.
For his part, Hillyard makes no apologies for his years on Capital Hill in Salt Lake City, where his Senate colleagues routinely defer to his expertise in budgetary matters and appropriations.
Wilson has also signed on to the congressional Term Limits Convention pledge and has challenged Hillyard to do the same.
For the incumbent Senator, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.
“I am not opposed to term limits on the federal level …” Hillyard responded when asked about Wilson’s challenge. “But I am not interested in calling for a constitutional convention of the states.”
The Term Limits Convention pledge is sponsored by U.S. Term Limits (USTL), a non-partisan group that seeks the support of state lawmakers to impose term limit restrictions on their counterparts in Washington D.C. According to Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of USTL, a 2018 national poll revealed that 82 percent of Americans favor congressional term limits.
But the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the efforts of individual states to impose congressional term limits in 1995, ruling that only a constitutional amendment could make that change.
Since members of congress would be unlikely to pass a draft constitutional amendment to limit their own terms, USTL now campaigns to get the members of 34 state legislatures to call for a national constitutional convention to draft such an amendment.
While that idea might sound good in theory, Hillyard said that a constitutional convention has the potential be a pandora’s box of “problems and dangers.”
Hillyard is not alone in that opinion. Both liberal and conservative Supreme Court jurists have warned that such a gathering would make the U.S. Constitution vulnerable to radical and harmful changes.
More than 30 years ago, former Chief Justice Warren Burger suggested that the agenda of a constitutional convention called for a single issue could veer in other directions, particularly under the influence of special interest lobbying. The late Justice Antonin Scalia voiced similar concerns as as recently as 2014.
Hillyard added that Cache Valley residents also seem leery of the idea of tinkering with the Constitution.
“Every time (congressional term limits) has been brought up over the years in our town hall meetings, the people in attendance are strongly opposed to a constitutional convention,” Hillyard explained.
“So I’ve suggested that (the USTL) try to elect federal legislators who can amend the constitution without the problems and danger of a constitutional convention.”
Local GOP voters will choose between Hillyard and Wilson in primary balloting on June 30.