IN last week's Oklahoma primary, only seven of the legislative seats up for grabs were available because incumbents were forced out by term limits. Five House members and two senators where shown the door for this reason.
Some, like progressive Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, won't be missed. Others will be, such as Rep. Kris Steele, whose 12 years in office were capped by two as House speaker, where he accomplished much that will benefit the state in the years ahead.
This is part of the give and take with our term limits, which Oklahoma voters approved by a wide margin in 1990 — they ensure that men and women won't wind up spending decades at the Capitol, creating fiefdoms along the way, but they also push out some members who with a few more years in office might accomplish great things.
But the 12-year limit is here to stay — voters like it. Indeed in 2010, they decided statewide officeholders shouldn't serve more than eight years (12 for corporation commissioners). And as a recent analysis by the Tulsa World showed, term limits have helped to produce a more diverse membership and helped to switch the majorities in the House and Senate from Democratic to Republican. Most Oklahomans would agree those are changes for the better.
Term limits encourage newcomers to enter politics, which is a good thing. An example this year can be seen in House District 20, where incumbent Rep. Paul Roan, D-Tishomingo, was term-limited. The race attracted four Republicans and two Democrats, all of them newcomers to such an exercise. Four people sought to succeed Wilson; the same was true in the race for term-limited Sen. Jonathan Nichols' seat.
The 12-year limit also has proved to be plenty long enough for many. This year, state Rep. Corey Holland, R-Marlow, gave up his House seat after just two terms in order to return to teaching. Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, left after four terms in office to run for Cleveland County commissioner. In the Senate, Democrats Charlie Laster, Tom Adelson and Richard Lerblance could have sought one last four-year term but opted to do otherwise. Republican Steve Russell decided to leave after just one term.