Seduced by Term Limits

The primary election last week in California didn’t excite me much. Jerry Brown was nominated by the Democrats for governor. (Him again. Can’t that guy just retire?) Super-rich businesswoman Meg Whitman got the Republican nomination for governor, and a good thing too! She’d be right to be annoyed if she had not even won the primary after spending $71 million on her campaign. I wonder how much that election cost her per vote. Surely someone’s done the math.

There was one question on the ballot that forced me to look deep inside myself for guidance. It was a local proposition that asked if San Diego County Supervisors should be subject to term limits. Somehow, the local supervisors had evaded those political statutes of limitations… quite a feat in Southern California. I think they dodged term limits for so long because few people knew who they were and nobody was quite sure what a county supervisor did.

But last week, reality caught up with the county supes. Labor unions, who dislike the all-GOP county board, had managed to qualify a ballot question on term limits and voters overwhelmingly passed it. Two terms will now be the maximum for a county supervisor. I too voted for Proposition B.

This is curious because I had always considered myself an opponent of term limits. It didn’t make sense to me to kick people out of their jobs just when they’d gotten good at them. It’s also ironic that voters, who seem to love voting for incumbents, love term limits as well. “Please stop me before I vote for that guy again!!”

Let’s look at the example of the San Diego County Supervisors. Today, they are they same five old duffers who’ve been in office ever since I moved to San Diego in 1998. We must like them if they keep getting elected. Even so, we just don’t trust our lazy, uninspired selves to decide whether they should stay in office. 

So if term limits make me mock and sneer like this, why did I vote for Prop B?  

It’s partly because I’ve been stained by the local political culture. Term limits are how we do things here, so why fight it? But I have also come to believe that incumbency is a force that’s too powerful when political apathy is such a problem. Yes, voters should have the attention span and civic spirit to know who their county supervisor is and whether he/she deserves to be fired. But that’s just not the case. Apathy allows politicians who work below the radar to remain in office by cultivating the right contacts and getting all their buddies to make it to the polls on election day.

The result, in San Diego, is a board of supervisors whose members are all old, white and Republican in a county that’s becoming more and more diverse, racially and politically. That has caused me to buy into the arguments for term limits. Yes, we need fresh blood. Yes, we need to give challengers a better chance to hold office.

I have not entirely transformed my views on the subject. I’ll still vote for any proposition that would extend term limits for local and state offices. Why limit politicians to two four-year terms? Three or four terms make more sense to me. But all things considered, I decided Prop B deserved a yes vote.

Mind you, this proposition will have no real effect on the current stable of San Diego County Supervisors. Prop B is not retroactive, so our county supes won’t be termed out for another 8 years, by which time they’ll be  more concerned about using their Medicare benefits than running for office.

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4 Comments on “Seduced by Term Limits”

  1. Greg Duch Says:

    The Board of Supes are a remarkable institution. They resemble in so many ways the old members of the old Politburo of the old Soviet Union. For instance:

    1. They all belong to a one-party ruling system.
    2. They have been in office forever. They go through
    the charade of pseudo-elections, in which they generally have no opposition worthy of the race.
    3. They have jobs for life; as long as they keep the ruling elites of the party happy.
    4. They act as the county’s legislative branch of government.–no oversight
    5. They act as the county’s executive branch of government.-no oversight
    6. They head and manipulate the administrative bureaucracy of county government–the NOMENKLATURA, as it was known in the old Soviet Union.-no oversight
    6. They force the adjudication of matters of law, like medi-marijuana sales. They thus act as the ideological conscious and purity monitors of the county.-no oversight
    7. They meet behind closed doors, with little coverage by the media, nor accountancy to the public.
    8. They consist of an oligarchy of JUST 5—FIVE MEMBERS FOR A COUNTY OF 3.2 MILLION PEOPLE.
    9. They carve the county up among themselves into their own 5 little soviet-style spheres of influence.

    10. They are great at presiding over non-relevant ceremonial falderall public occasions.

    The only difference I see between the FIVE SUPES and the Soviet Politburo is that the Supes don’t wear fur hats in public, nor give each other bear-hugs in the public eye.

    But in San Diego County, 3 VOTING Supes (out of five) can dictate policy for over 3.2 million people, with no form of oversite, nor check on such absolute POWER.

    And it appears by the nature of the recently passed measure, that Comrades Cox, Jacobs, Roberts, Horn, Slater-Price will get carried out, before there is any chance for them to be voted out of their authoritarian five-headed politburo.
    Da Svidania!

  2. Jim Fudge Says:

    On the other hand, why have propositions at all? Isn’t it the job of our state Legislature to come up with whatever ideas would benefit the state? Isn’t what our representatives have been elected to do, and isn’t what they are paid for? A friend of mine feels that way and thereby votes against any proposition comes down the pike. Whose idea was the “proposition” in the first place? We elect our fellow citizens to represent us, then why don’t we leave it up to them (of course assuming that our elected representatives keep in touch with their constituents).

  3. Stevefromsacto Says:

    Tom:

    In an ideal world, I would share your concern about term limits. But San Diego County is a special case.

    You see, the Royal Supervisors not only redistricted in order to improve their reelection chances, they set up an unbeatable system where they each received $2 million a year of taxpayers money to use as their own personal slush funds.

    So even in the unlikely event that a challenger could keep up with the incumbent in campaign fund-raising, there is no way he or she could compete with a $2 million a year slush fund.

    The overwhelming majority of San Diego County voters finally realized that the system was rigged. The only way to change it was to approve term limits.


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