Term limits for supervisors — heading for a possible ballot measure — can be seen either as a means of opening up the political process to more comers or as a method for ridding government of individuals some people dislike.
That can be done now by majority vote in general elections. However, popular lawmakers develop staying power which apparently rankles some who would prefer not having them around.
Of course it may be a case of beware you do not get what you wished for.
California voters passed term limits in 1990 and refined them slightly in 2012 when voters passed Proposition 28, which limits lawmakers to 12 years, but permits them to spend all their time in one branch or by combining their service in both the Assembly and Senate.
The new system has not brought noticeable improvements, with the same partisan squabbling and deadlock always lurking.
One upshot of term limits, in combination with the “open” primary, was the development of a play-it-safe mentality among legislators less willing to sponsor bills that require long-term solutions, particularly if chances of passage are minimal. They know they could soon be running for new political jobs.
Supervisorial posts are supposedly nonpartisan. In actuality, however, the political colorations reflect the predominant views of the region. In Marin, all five supervisors are Democrats, although over the years Republicans also have held seats.
Party affiliations, though, should not be a determinant of one’s qualifications for office, nor a reason to short circuit careers of those who are doing a reasonably good job who voters want to be able to re-elect.
It is more important we focus on ways to strengthen institutions and make them more responsive than selling the public on quick fixes that may result is instant gratification for questionable motives, but do little to produce meaningful reforms.
We do not trade in a car every time there is a malfunction. Government malfunctions more than many other organizations and its excesses and errors should not be tolerated. However, as seasoned lawmakers become better versed in the complex nuances of making public policy, so long as they are rendering good decisions, their contributions deserve to be rewarded.
If holders of public office are found wanting by their constituents, the voters can and should replace them. But when there are already few incentives for high-quality candidates — and especially younger citizens — to enter public life, they should not be discouraged even further by laws that have little useful purpose.
The Legislature has discovered that term limits have produced excellent employment paths for senior aides, consultants and special interest lobbyists who have become even more indispensable at each turnover.
In effect, they have become surrogate legislators with the critical institutional knowledge essential for getting anything done, while those actually entrusted with the job must spend nearly as much time fund raising as legislating in order to finance their next career moves.
Term limits merely promote this process and arguably restrict our rights to vote for those we wish to support.
Since district supervisors like city council members and other locally elected officials have even closer ties to the voters who can hold them very accountable, the rationale for term limits is highly questionable.
Government is not meant to be a ticket to permanent job security. However, encouraging robust competition is preferable to an infringement of voter rights.
It should not require a ballot measure to settle this. Still, if supporters want to put it to the vote that is their prerogative.
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Originally published in the Marin Independent Journal.