BLOG: No Limits on Term Limits

If the people want to vote on term limits, no one, politician or fellow voter, should stand in the way of the democratic process.

Central to the discussion of is the fundamental truth stated by the noted British historian Lord Acton, when he said, "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That truism is placed in proper context when it is noted that 98.5% of incumbents who rerun for office are reelected to the non term-limited U.S. Congress. (www.termlimits.org

How many political incumbents can we name that we know should be replaced, but history proves that name recognition, voter apathy and the high cost of running a campaign puts the advantage of winning an election squarely on the incumbents? Imagine if there were no term limits on the U.S. Presidency and George W. Bush had continued to be reelected indefinitely!

Municipal term limits have spread quietly but steadily across country. There are nearly 3,000 term-limited cities, counties and municipalities in the United States, including 10 of our largest cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Houston, and even Peoria.

Support for term limits goes back to Thomas Jefferson who in 1789 proposed a limited political tenure "to prevent any danger which might arise to the freedoms of the people" by having members of the Continental Congress remain in office too long. Our nation's framers must be writhing in their graves at the political system that rules us today, instead of vice versa, with its dominant cadre of lifelong career politicians and its embedded culture of corruption.

Entrenched and self-serving politicians argue that the election process alone should dictate the number of terms they are allowed to serve. Okay. Then why do they stand in the way of having the proposition placed on the ballot and letting the people vote on it? 

This applies as well to the voters who are against term limits. Okay. So support putting the proposition on the ballot and let the people vote on it. Those who seek to prevent this or any other public issue from going before the voters are traitors to democracy. Voters should cast a suspicious eye upon the incumbent politician who seeks to prevent them from voting on the issue of term limits, or any other one for that matter.

I think they should stay out of it and honor the democratic process. It is not about them, it is about the people and the good of the city. If it is so that politicians are only reelected because they are who the people want, then why has the approval of congressional members ranged from 13-17% in recent months?

I realize that some members of this City Council have tried to move on but have found that they are unelectable to higher office, so they simply stay. Others have no desire to move on and give up their local realm of power. It may be true that some of them have done "good things" and they should. They are elected and expected to do "good things."

It depends on the balance. And that does not mean that someone else could not do better or that we should not hear new ideas from new people; in fact the opposite is true. We should welcome new brain power as well as new faces and voices that might be very talented and capable, but feel marginalized by a process that renders them helpless to compete.

Replacing council members also means periodically replacing some city employees and that would also help to eliminate a lot of the corruptive, stale and stagnant politics that occur when the same people retain positions of control and power for too long. If term limits are a threat to politicians, so be it. They are good for the people.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

scott ferguson July 27, 2012 at 05:23 AM
And I oppose term limits for many reasons - detailed on the other thread on this issue (they are regarded by political scientists who have studied them across the country as a mainly negative force with major negative consequences - google for yourself and you'll find the details) - but one of the main ones for me is that are completely anti-democratic. And voting them in by an election makes them no less so. You start out by saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely." OK, there's some truth to that - but it has nothing to do with West Hollywood. Our council members (there are five of them, they are not one person) don't remotely have absolute power. And as to whether they are corrupt - still waiting for any evidence on that. If you want local evidence of the disaster of term limits, go to Sacramento. There's your evidence. It used to be a workable, active, useful body. Term limits ruined it. And George W. Bush wouldn't have been elected to a third term. But with term limits, FDR wouldn't have had a third or fourth, and we might to this day be dominated by the Japanese and Nazi empires.
Chloe Ross July 27, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Repetitive comments should have shame AND limits. Thankyou Woody and Thomas Jefferson.
Shawn Thompson July 28, 2012 at 12:37 PM
I agree with you Woody. Its time to give other residents a chance to serve the city
Sheila Lightfoot July 30, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Scott, you have often made the argument that people who don’t vote abstain because they are happy with the status quo. If term limits is on the ballot and you are correct, all those folks will come out in droves to vote AGAINST term limits, it will LOSE and you won’t have anything to worry about. As for your continued calls to “just google it,” you imply that scholarly studies with absolute evidence that local term limits have negative consequences are just lined up one after the other to back you up. I’d ask you, since you’ve obviously already done that research, to share the links with us to some of those studies on the effects of local term limits. One of the most recent widely distributed studies I can find concerns your bug-a-boo, CA state term limits (http://www.ncsl.org/Portals/1/documents/jptl/casestudies/Californiav2.pdf). Although it is critical as to some loss of expertise required to deal with the extremely complicated state legislative process (vs. WeHo’s far simpler issues and procedures), they conclude term limits should not be ended but amended to allow more years in a single legislative body. That is exactly what voters did in the last election by approving Prop 29 – it “lowered” the limit from 14 to 12 years, but allowed all those years to be served in either the Assembly or the Senate.
scott ferguson July 30, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Sheila Thanks for the thoughtful post. On ballot turnout - the passion for this issue would be with the pro-term limit folks. On a lot of issues, passion trumps majority view (see under the national abortion debate over the past decades, and other one-issues that people vote on), and in any case, the default position before the merits are explained on both sides for most people is to be in favor. On googling, I didn't mean to imply that it is a black and white case. I meant people should explore the issue in more detail. One of the things I noted is that some scholars state that the case for limits among executives (governors, mayors, where power is invested in one person) is much stronger than for legislators (which is what our council members are), and it is in the latter in which the damage is much more of a risk. Prop 29 did take care of some of the CA legislature problem. But still, I am against any limits for reasons I could further details. Now could I ask you - since all the current long term members can serve even if this passes 2-3 more terms, is this really worth the effort? And seriously, if Heilman and Land do manage to get reelected for even longer, wouldn't that at least in part be a sign that the city continues overall to do well and residents are generally happy? To me, if they are still there 12+ years from now (unlikely even if term limits fail if it even gets on the ballot), one could argue that the city will continue to thrive.
Manny July 31, 2012 at 12:51 PM
If we want change, why wait 12 years?. We should encourage and support quality candiates to run for office. Make the changes now with votes in an election. Voters have shown in recent years (last year and 10 years ago) that residents are capable of voting for change. We just need candiates like the ones who asked to be considered for appointment in 2009. Many of those individuals are the ones who should be running, not the bunch that ran in 2011 (with the exception of Steve Martin). If the voters are disatisfied and they have good choices, change can happen.
meister4weho August 01, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Getting the question of Term Limits on the ballot... There are two steps in this process… First, we need to collect signatures to petition City Council to ask them to put the Term Limits question on the March ballot. (There is a dual purpose for this -- when we collect signatures, we will be building up our email list as well.) If the Council majority chooses not to put Term Limits on the ballot, then we will need to gather signatures for an Initiative to put it on the March ballot. Please go to www.wehotermlimits.com to register for the mailing list and to download the form to get petition signatures. (Please note, signing this petition does not mean you are necessarily "for" Term Limits but rather, that you are for Voters having a choice. Please give West Hollywood Voters the opportunity to decide whether they want Term Limits or not. Please feel free to share this email with your friends.) Thank you!
allegra August 02, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Stephanie September 07, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Manny, we can, and will, do BOTH! Vote for Term Limits AND encourage quality candidates to run. But those new candidates will know that they will not be entrenched for 30+ years. I believe John D'Amico has stated that he is only interested in 2 terms, voluntarily. Let's face it, we really do need some diversity on the council. Where is the representation of Russians or ethnic folk? Where is the representation of straight people who are the majority of citizens by a small percentage? Why aren't there two women on the council? et cetera. The current group doesn't represent the demographic at least according to the 2010 Census.
Riley September 07, 2012 at 11:50 PM
@Scott, so you are saying that since you are opposed to term limits you do not feel it should be on the ballot? Would you deny others the right to put it on the ballot? That seems anti-democratic to me.
Manny September 07, 2012 at 11:59 PM
What your saying are many reasonable points that some residents might agree with and can lead to change. It just seems like all I'm hearing lately is putting all our eggs into the one basket of term limits. Quality, qualified and smart candidates should start considering the 2013 election. As a bonus, if people choose to sign a petition for 13 years from now....go for it.
Riley September 08, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Money and the Supreme Court put George W. in office two times and I have no doubt it could easily have put him in a third term. However, that correlation is ludacrous.
Riley September 08, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Manny, we ARE going for it! And the qualified candidates can't get their nomination papers until mid October...but they will! The reason term limits could not be applied retroactively is that that is illegal, so you take what you can get. Forward!
GoodGriefCharlieBrown September 08, 2012 at 04:41 AM
There is a very clear and concise concept to the issue at hand. Let the people vote. This is not even an issue if whether or not one supports term limits, but rather an issue of supporting the people's right to decide. If term limits does not become a ballot measure, no one will ever know what the outcome of the people's vote would have been. That is a sad statement on a city that says it is progressive, creative & diverse. You cannot say you respect the majority opinion if you would choose to supress their voice. It IS that simple. The rest is superfluous & pointless chatter. Let the people vote.
GoodGriefCharlieBrown September 08, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Ironic that D'Amico is the only one who has stated he would only serve for 2 terms and is also the only one who many people hope will break his promise. I think D'Amico is sincere in his quest for change in West Hollywood and has his feet planted firmly on solid ground. He has more common sense, maturity - emotional & otherwise- and grasp on reality than the other 4 members all put together. If I had to pick a lifer, it would be D'Amico.


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