MONTPELIER — When it comes to gubernatorial elections, nobody does it like Vermont and New Hampshire. They're the only states in the nation where governors still serve only two-year terms, a New England tradition seen by some as a necessary rein on power but criticized by others as an impediment to long-term progress. Two-year terms — as opposed to four-year terms — keep governors in a near-constant state of campaigning, but lawmakers who could make the change say they don't want voters to lose the ability to keep their governors accountable. "There are reasonable arguments to be made on both sides," said Vermont state archivist Gregory Sanford, who helped write a section of his office's Web site laying out the history of term lengths. It's an issue that keeps coming up in both states. Constitutional amendments that would be required to make the change are routinely proposed and usually forgotten — but never passed. In Vermont, the last time the proposal reached the state's voters — the final step in amending the constitution — was in 1974, when Watergate-era distrust of government was high, said state Sen. Bill Doyle, R-Washington. Doyle has repeatedly introduced constitutional amendments to extend the terms of statewide office holders, to no avail. "I honestly believe the time has come when we're ready for a four-year term," said Doyle, who conducts an informal poll of Vermonters' attitudes every Town Meeting Day. When he asks about four-year terms, about 65 percent of people support the idea, he said. But lawmakers won't have it. "I think the Legislature is concerned about the growth of the power of the executive branch," said Doyle, who plans to try again in January, if he's still in office. In New Hampshire, the subject comes up regularly as well. This year, Granite State lawmakers considered and rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have set four-year terms beginning in 2010. In Vermont, the two-year-terms are a legacy of the state's founding, when lawmakers wanted to check the power of the executive. For nearly 100 years after Vermont's founding in 1777, citizens went to the polls every year, although there was an informal rule that allowed a governor to be re-elected once. In what was known as "the mountain rule," the holder of the office would surrender it after two years to a man from the other side of the Green Mountains, said Sanford. In 1870, lawmakers accepted the reality of the day and changed the constitution to allow for two-year terms. And between 1870 and 1928 each governor was elected to a single two-year term, Sanford said. That changed in the aftermath of the 1927 flood, when Republican governors served for two, two-year terms. That lasted until the 1960s, when Democratic Gov. Philip Hoff was elected three times. Extending the term to four years is by far the most common reason Vermont lawmakers have set out to amend the state Constitution. Since 1870, four-year term proposals have been made 18 times. "It's been the most persistent proposal of amendment over the last 30 to 40 years," said Sanford. One of the problems with amending the constitution to add four-year terms is deciding which officers would get the longer terms, Doyle said. Should all six statewide elected officers be given the longer terms? And what about the Legislature, where lawmakers also serve two-year terms? Some terms have been lengthened. In 1976, the terms of state's attorneys and sheriffs were extended to four years.

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