Term Limits and Legislative-Executive Conflict in the American States


  • The authors wish to thank Brett Presnell, Carl Klarner, Jim DeNardo, Thad Kousser, Jeff Lewis, Seth Masket, Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson, and three anonymous reviewers. Any errors are, of course, entirely our own.


State governments have experienced considerable institutional change in the last several decades. None appeared at first glance to be as far-reaching as the legislative term limits that were adopted by over 20 states in the 1990s. The evidence to date suggests that term limits have indeed changed the character of many of the states' legislatures, if not always as predicted by their advocates. We report data on veto dynamics over the period 1989–2008 to determine how term limits have impacted legislative-executive relations. Our data both challenge and support what has become the conventional wisdom, i.e., that term limits will weaken legislatures relative to their governors. States with more stringent term limits experienced fewer gubernatorial vetoes but proved more likely to override those vetoes when they were issued. Taken together the evidence suggests that the relationship between governors and legislatures in the wake of term limits is more complex and variable than scholars and others had previously thought.