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High court hears term-limits debate

High court hears term-limits debate

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Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Wyoming's term-limits law strips citizens of their constitutional rights to vote and hold office, an attorney said Wednesday in challenging the 12-year-old restriction.

In arguments before the state Supreme Court, attorneys for Sen. Rich Cathcart, D-Carpenter, and Rep. Rodney "Pete" Anderson, R-Pine Pluffs, and two of their constituents said the only legal way to limit the terms of elected state officials is through a constitutional amendment.

The state claims that is not necessary, and argues the election held to create the law was legal.

"I am very disturbed by the concept that the Wyoming Constitution doesn't matter and I am very disturbed that a legislative act can amend the constitution. … All citizens' right to vote, run for office, those rights are violated by term limits," said Harriet Hageman, an attorney for Anderson and Cathcart.

The law was adopted in 1992 through a ballot initiative and was later modified by the Legislature. Cathcart and Anderson are among 13 House and Senate members subject to term limits this year.

The state constitution sets the qualifications for senators and representatives, including state citizenship, residence and minimum ages. It makes no reference to term limits.

In opposing arguments, the state argued the term-limits law was overwhelmingly approved in the November 1992 general election by 77 percent of the people who voted on the question.

"The will of the people was expressed and should be upheld by this court," Deputy Attorney General Mike Hubbard said.

The Wyoming Constitution reserves power to the people, including the power to adopt term limits, meaning qualifications for elected office aren't exclusive and can be changed by voters, he said.

The term-limits law holds House and Senate members to 12 years and the governor, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer and superintendent of public instruction to eight years in office.

Attorney Sasha Johnston argued the law was enacted due to citizens' "absolute dissatisfaction" with perpetual incumbents being in office, adding it did not inflict on people's political liberties.

But Hageman and attorney Timothy Stubson countered a constitutional provision prohibits the use of an initiative to amend the constitution if it changes something the Legislature could not itself.

"The Legislature could not have adopted the term-limit law because it violates the constitution and the right to vote," Hageman said. "We can't take an end run around that."

The court will issue its decision in coming months, although candidates must file for election by May 28.

Copyright © 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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