There's Another Term for It: Democracy : Forget Limits on Time in Office: Let Voters Who Put Incumbents in Put Them Out

The democratic process allows voters to remove or retain their local officials as they see fit. That process shouldn't be tinkered with.

From time to time, initiatives come along, some well-meaning and others driven by hardball politics, to set arbitrary limits that will accomplish what voters have been unwilling to do, namely to remove competent incumbents from office. Another one of those misguided efforts now is under way in Newport Beach.

It's true that anti-incumbent sentiment surfaces from time to time in politics. Longtime local officeholders are either voted out of office, forced into runoff elections or win new terms by uncomfortably narrow margins. Other times they win reelection handily. But both in principle and as a practical political matter, limiting terms of office is a bad way to run government, even though it may seem on the surface to some to be a good idea.

In Newport Beach, proponents are circulating petitions seeking enough signatures to qualify a ballot initiative that would amend the city Charter to limit City Council service to two consecutive four-year terms. If passed as proposed, the measure would force the ouster of two veteran council members now finishing their third terms and up for reelection in November.

Such a measure would accomplish nothing. For one thing, the mandatory removal of veteran public officials is no guarantee of better government and could well have the opposite effect. The same two-term limit that would bar a lazy, incompetent officeholder from another term would also remove the energetic and effective public official who still has the desire and ability to serve well.

It takes many years for a public official to develop the expertise needed to understand and be effective in dealing with today's complicated issues. Why lose that experience and edge to some capricious limit?

Aside from the questionable legality of restricting terms of local office (the courts have held them invalid in non-charter cities), election experience has shown that there really is no reason to have such artificial restraints.

Voters have shown no reluctance to turn out of office people whose performance they find lacking, and to retain those they feel are competent, no matter how many terms they have served.

We have faith in that system. It may not be perfect, but the will and judgment of the voters is far preferable to artificial limits that take that decision out of their hands.

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