AUGUSTA, Maine — A bid to double the length of terms for members of the Legislature is likely dead after the House of Representatives rejected the idea on Thursday.

The House of Representatives voted 76-64 against the measure on partisan lines — with one exception. Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, joined all Democrats in voting against it.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, sought to increase term lengths for senators and representatives from two years to four years but reduced the number of terms they can serve from four to two. The result would have been that lawmakers could have served eight consecutive years before being forced out by term limits — the same length as now — but would have faced re-election only once.

The concept, which would alter the Maine Constitution, would require approval by voters at a referendum.

Sanderson argued that the change would let lawmakers focus more on policy and less on elections every two years.

“How many times have you heard your legislative colleagues say ‘I can’t vote for that because it’s an election year?’” she said. “Sadly in my terms here I have heard that all too often.”

She and other Republicans argued in debate on the House floor Thursday morning that the change would save money for both privately funded candidates and their donors and candidates whose campaigns are funded by the taxpayer-supported Maine Clean Election Act. Another argument in favor of the bill was that it would give rookie lawmakers more time to learn about process and policies before facing voters for a second time.

“At least with this bill, you’d have four years to try to figure it out, not two,” said Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington. “If for no other reason than a sociological experiment, let’s put this out to the citizens to find out if they really want less elections or not.”

Rep. Mary Anne Kinney, R-Knox, chimed in that it would also reduce pesky roadside campaign signs.

“People are tired of seeing all of our lawn signs all of the time,” Kinney said. “If they saw them half as much, maybe they’d appreciate us a little more.”

Democrats argued that the longer terms could deter some people from running for office and questioned the effect of staggered elections. Under the bill, senators would run during presidential election years and representatives in gubernatorial election years.

“Longer terms and staggered terms make it a longer wait for voters who want to make changes in their elected representatives,” said Rep. Roland Danny Martin, D-Sinclair.

Attempts to change the length of terms and Maine’s term-limits law, which restricts service in the Legislature to four consecutive two-year terms, come under consideration by the Legislature regularly. There at least five this year alone, including a proposal to abolish term limits altogether.

Sanderson’s bill faces more votes in both chambers of the Legislature but given Thursday’s vote is unlikely to succeed.

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Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.