Term limits for Osage elected officials will be question on 2020 election ballot

At the next election, Osage voters will consider a constitutional amendment question of whether the Osage Nation’s elected and retained officials serving in all three government branches should be limited to five full terms in office.

During the 2019 Hun-Kah Session, the 12-member Sixth ON Congress unanimously passed ONCR 18-20, which is a resolution seeking to put the term limits question on the next Osage election ballot. Congressman John Maker, who has sponsored prior unsuccessful resolutions seeking term limit questions, is the sponsor and Congresswoman Alice Goodfox is co-sponsor.

Currently, those who hold offices in the ON Executive Branch (Principal Chief and Assistant Principal Chief) and Congress each have four-year terms with no term limits. For the Judicial Branch, the Principal Chief initially appoints the three Supreme Court Justices and Chief Judge for the ON Trial Court and each judge serves an initial four-year term – following a Congressional confirmation vote – and is subject to retention by Osage voters to serve another four-year term with no term limits.  

The discussion of term limits for Osage officials is not new and previous Congressional resolutions containing term limit questions proposing different term limit numbers and targeting one branch’s elected positions failed to garner sufficient support to make it onto past election ballots except in one instance.

In 2012, voters narrowly voted down another term limit question asking whether the Office of Principal Chief should be limited to three four-year terms. Goodfox sponsored that term limit question resolution (ONCR 11-10), which failed to garner 65% of the “yes” vote required for the proposed Constitutional amendment to take effect.

In the latest round of discussions on the term limits question, Goodfox agreed to co-sponsor ONCR 18-20 during the Hun-Kah Session while Maker was absent most of the 24-day session due to recovery from recent surgery. Maker filed ONCR 18-20 during the 2018 Tzi-Zho Session, which remained in the Congressional Governmental Operations Committee until Goodfox and Maker had a discussion on advancing the resolution with more revisions to consider.

During the March 25 Government Operations Committee meeting, Goodfox introduced a revised version of the bill with the five term limits language to apply to the government offices.

According to ONCR 18-20, this resolution puts the term limits question before the Osage people for their approval or rejection at the next general election or at a special election if ordered by the Legislature. The resolution asks Osage voters whether five full term limits (plus any initial partial term fulfilled as the result of a vacancy) should apply to the ON Congress, Principal Chief, Assistant Principal Chief, and the four Judicial Branch Judges established in the Constitution.

If the Constitutional amendment passes, those offices in the three Osage branches of government will be limited to five office terms totaling 20 years with each term’s duration lasting four years.

As for federal office, the U.S. President and Vice Presidential offices (on a combined ticket) have two term limits (eight years total) and there are no term limits for U.S. House and Senate members.

In Oklahoma, the state constitution also has two term limits (eight years total) for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, who currently run for office separately. In 1990, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 632 which limited service in the state legislature to no more than 12 years in the House and Senate combined, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute website.

On April 22, the Osage Congress considered ONCR 18-20 for a floor vote.

Before the 12-0 approving vote, Goodfox, who has previously said she is a proponent of sending ballot questions to Osage voters, encouraged the “yes” votes needed for ONCR 18-20 to pass “so the Osage people can tell us if they want term limits.”

The next general election will be held in June 2020 with the ballot containing two proposed Osage Constitutional amendment questions. Six Congressional seats will also be open and voters will have the opportunity to pick candidates to fill those seats.