Not my last word on term limits

February 21, 2013

The people behind term limits is a group of activists whom the measure will help gain power.

Masterminds of term limits, failed city council candidates all – spokesperson Lauren Meister, campaign manager Scott Schmidt and Steve Martin. From the campaign's Facebook page.

“If they eye offend thee, pluck it out…” but not just yet, they say. “Yes,” I hear the swelling chorus chanting, “we want change – but we’re willing to wait twelve years for it to happen.”

Defies logic.

Do we not scratch when we itch? Do we not seek immediate relief when we hurt? How then can people claim to want change on the City Council and not want it NOW?

Most of the people who want Measure C to pass will not be here when it takes effect in 2025 – and most of those still here, I’m willing to bet, won’t give a damn. Something else will be tickling their – whatever.

Term limits are an affront to the electoral process because it imposes an automatic effect rather than allowing for the wishes of the voters. The democratic process requires citizens to get up off their butts and vote their preferences.

Term limits serve the small core of politically active citizens and further allow the lazy, the unregistered, the uninvolved to simply let things happen. In a real democracy voters must be swayed by deeds and rhetoric from the contenders to the seats of power. Too heady a thought?

Well, how’s this: If I was unhappy with the long tenure of anybody on the present City Council I’d be demanding his or her ouster NOW, at the next election on March 5. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to wait twelve years for change.

The people behind Term Limits (l-r) Mito Aviles, Steve Martin, lyse Eisenberg, Scott Schmidt, unidentified man, Lauren Meister, ChadMichael Morrisette, unidentified woman, Allegra Allison, unidentified man and Sheila Lightfoot. Of those present in this Facebook post, four have run unsuccessful campaigns for city council and five are battle-hardened veterans of development wars against John Heilman and Abbe Land, battles won and lost. Neither Ms. Land nor Mr. Heilman are on this year’s ballot.

I know most of the arguments for term limits and all of them are highly emotional responses to what is regarded as untenable situations. None of us can see well into the future so we want to try to alter it in the present.

Term limits proponents' logic goes like this: Incumbents' money advantage overwhelms challengers' chances to get elected, so limiting terms will allow those challengers a chance. John D'Amico's (seated on the right) victory – a challenger who raised more money than the incumbents and won more votes – is considered a fluke an unrepeatable. From the campaign's Facebook page

Be aware of the “butterfly effect,” however. the result of unintended consequences. It seems to me that efforts to effect change are better spent in driving to attain a higher turnout of like-minded voters at the polls. However, I guess that’s just too hard to do, given the city’s dismal history of low turnout. Better to make a loud call to “throw the rascals out!” Sometime in the future.

That’s really democracy by mechanism, not by mandate.

If one looks back to the election of John D’Amico, one will find a reasonable example of the people’s will being exercised at the polls. The turnout was not quite as bad as usual in our little corner of paradise, but it was far from a landslide.

John D’Amico was elected by a margin of voters who wanted to head off what appeared to be a Boss Tweed move to bring in an unqualified and unwelcome “replacement” for Guarriello’s seat. Citizens were upset and those who were invigorated John D’Amico’s remarks at a Council meeting, in which he called the whole sitting board out as “elitists” and forgetful of its duty to the residents, came out in sufficient numbers to see him elected. Now that the residents know how it’s done, why not again?

If I bring up Santayana’s observation “that those who cannot learn from history, must repeat it,” it is in the intent of reminding residents that they control their political destiny and they must tend democracy as they would a fine garden. Fertilizing and weeding by hand, the hard work, will bring forth the best blossoms, not cultivation by a mechanism like term limits…

See you at the polling place.