- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - An effort to get a term limits initiative on the Mississippi ballot was doomed because conservative volunteers started gathering signatures but later shifted their time and energy to the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, organizers said Monday.

Initiative 51 was launched last spring by a political action committee called United Conservatives Fund.

The group had a year to gather signatures of at least 107,200 registered voters. It missed a deadline last Wednesday to submit the necessary petitions to the secretary of state’s office.

The initiative proposed limiting legislators and statewide office holders to two consecutive, four-year terms.

Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, a tea party favorite who lost a U.S. Senate race in 2014, is the group’s director.

The term limits effort started the same year McDaniel won a third term in the legislature, and he promoted the initiative, saying in April of last year that “the power of incumbency has built a wall between people and their representatives.”

But the loosely formed group of volunteers who backed the term limits effort found their time preoccupied by a contentious primary between Trump and Cruz supporters.

McDaniel, who was also Mississippi director of the Cruz campaign, told The Associated Press on Monday that people gathering signatures for the term limits initiative “ended up on slightly opposing teams” in the Republican presidential primary and the initiative fell to a backburner.

“As we moved to presidential primary season, it became apparent that our base of volunteers was split between the Trump campaign and the Cruz campaign,” McDaniel said.

The initiative’s sponsor was Keith Plunkett of Flora, a political consultant who has worked with McDaniel. Plunkett estimated Monday that volunteers collected 30,000 to 40,000 signatures.

“We deal with folks who are just everyday working-class folks,” Plunkett told AP in a separate interview. “Their volunteer time got focused on presidential politics.”

United Conservatives Fund reported that it raised $35,455 and spent $39,760 this year, which included some money carried over from previous years. Among the expenses listed on the June report were $750 to rent a party venue in northeast Jackson and $1,537 for catering from Char, an upscale restaurant. Plunkett said those expenses were for an event the night before the state Republican convention.

“It was an opportunity for us to sit everybody down and have a meeting,” Plunkett said.

An initiative that Mississippi voters rejected in 1995 would have limited appointed and elected state and local officials and U.S. senators to two consecutive terms and judges and U.S. representatives to three terms. One defeated in 1999 would have limited people to two terms in the state Senate and two in the state House.

The governor is limited to two terms. The lieutenant governor may serve no more than two consecutive terms, but after sitting out of that office for at least one term, the same person may again be elected lieutenant governor with the same limit of two consecutive terms.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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