Oklahoma voters sparked a national movement when they approved the Term Limits Amendment on September 18, 1990. Only four years later, twenty-three states had limited their state legislators' tenure in office. The effort in Oklahoma was spearheaded by Tulsa businessman and unsuccessful legislative candidate Lloyd Noble II. In the fall of 1989 Noble filed an initiative petition with the Office of the Oklahoma Secretary of State to limit the length of service of Oklahoma legislators to twelve years. Those twelve years could be served in either chamber or both. After filing the petition, Noble's organization, funded largely by members of his family, had to collect signatures from registered voters in the state. Paid collectors were able to gather the second highest number of signatures ever recorded on an initiative petition in the prescribed ninety-day period. The signatures were certified by the secretary of state and validated by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Noble was able to persuade Gov. Henry Bellmon, a Republican and a supporter of the proposal, to place the question on the primary runoff ballot in September. Noble wanted to avoid cluttering the general election ballot in November. He also thought Oklahoma should be the first state in the nation to act on legislative term limitations. Voters in Colorado and California were going to decide term-limits initiatives during the November general election. Noble created an organization, Oklahomans for Legislative Reform, to campaign for the measure. The bipartisan group received support from most of the Republican minority in the state legislature and a number of key Democrats, including a former governor, Raymond Gary. While not endorsing Noble's proposal, Democratic gubernatorial nominee David Walters ran a campaign against professional politicians, coincidentally providing the term-limits campaign with free advertising.
Almost no opposition emerged to challenge the proposal. A group calling itself the Committee to Protect the Rights of Oklahoma Voters in Elections (PROVE) emerged less than a week before the election. The group's leadership included Jim Frasier, a Tulsa attorney and the former state Democratic Party chair, and Glo Henley, former executive director of the state Democrats. Some minimal opposition to the initiative came from current members of the state legislature. Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Carl Albert also spoke out against the proposal. Albert's effort was "too little, too late," as the measure was approved by a margin of almost two to one.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Gary W. Copeland, "Term Limitations and Political Careers in Oklahoma: In, Out, Up, or Down," in Limiting Legislative Terms, ed. Gerald Benjamin and Michael J. Malbin (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 1992). Gary W. Copeland and John David Rausch, Jr., "Sendin' 'Em Home Early: Oklahoma Legislative Term Limitations," Oklahoma Politics 2 (1993). John David Rausch, Jr., "Anti-Representative Direct Democracy: The Politics of Legislative Constraint," Comparative State Politics 15 (April 1994)
John David Rausch
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