Ex-lawmaker turns business lobbyist in era of term limits

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Capital News Service
LANSING – David Palsrok’s current office is located only a few blocks away from his old one, a physical reminder of the similar issues both jobs deal with.
Palsrok, 40, is vice president of government relations at the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) but he used to be the Republican representative for a four-county slice of the Northwest Lower Peninsula.
He left office, Dec. 31 2008 after serving the maximum six years allowed of time allotted by term limits and is an example of the effect they have on government.
At SBAM, he’s responsible for lobbying the Legislature on policy related to small business and economic issues.
“This is a great spot to continue to work on trying to turn the economy around, bringing really the perspective of the small business person,” Palsrok said.
Palsrok, who is from Manistee, graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in political science.
“When I was graduating from Michigan State, I didn’t really appreciate the type of opportunities state government would provide,” Palsrok said.  “I never really focused on it.  My eyes were always on the federal side.”
He worked as a legislative aide and a chief of staff before making an unsuccessful attempt for the House.
After that race, he spent four years in the private sector working for the Michigan Association of Realtors and then Connect Michigan.
He then ran again and won a seat in the House, representing the Manistee, Mason, Benzie and Leelanau counties
He served on the Energy and Technology Committee, where he worked on environmental issues related to alternative energy and on the Commerce Committee.
“When I was on the Commerce Committee, we were constantly, as policymakers, trying to look at what the state could do differently to turn the economy around,” Palsrok said.
Palsrok served the limit of three house terms.  From the perspective of an ex-lawmaker. he says term limits have positive and negative aspects.
On one hand,  term limits created an opening for him as a representative because his predecessor most likely would still be in that seat without them  He also said the influx of new people is good for the Legislature.
On the other hand, he sees several drawbacks, one of which is political polarization.
“That had a difficult effect as far as trying to get legislators to work in the middle, down the center aisle, trying to come up with solutions,” Palsrok said.  “ You put that over a $1.8 billion deficit and solutions become very hard to find.”
Another downside, according to Craig Ruff, a senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, is that they deny legislators the opportunity to fully use the knowledge they gain.
“The biggest drawback is that we deny experienced people the right to inform public policy, to write the best public policy,” Ruff said.
Term limits took effect in 1992 to bring in new blood, according to Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics newsletter.  Ballenger said voters felt the Legislature was too complacent and lazy and needed to be reinvigorated.
Ballenger said support for term limits seems to be at the same level as when they were implemented, with roughly 60 percent of the public supporting them.
He also said that people seemed open to the idea of lengthening the limits so legislators aren’t forced out as quickly.  Michigan has one of the shortest term limits for legislators in the country, according to Ballenger.
The amendment to the constitution restricts service to six years or three terms, in the House and eight years or two terms, in the Senate.
Palsrok could run for a Senate seat and considered doing so when he left the House, but ultimately decided not to.
He has two young children and having a job in the private sphere allows him to spend more time with them.
He isn’t sure if he will run for office again someday, but says “You never say never.”
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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