L.A. County supervisor wants voters to extend term limits

L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who will have served 36 years in office when term limits block him from running again in 2016, wants voters to consider amending the law so he can stay for up to eight more years.

On Tuesday, supervisors are scheduled to consider Antonovich’s call for a November ballot measure to stretch the term deadline, a move that could benefit other longtime board members if voters approve.

Antonovich said the current board was in the best position to steer the county through today’s harsh economic times.

“With many municipalities in economic crisis, voters deserve the opportunity to choose who they feel is the most-experienced and best-qualified to navigate the county through tough times,” the 72-year-old said in a statement.

Despite his motion, Antonovich hasn’t decided whether he would actually run again, according to his spokesman, Tony Bell.

“The focus is on the issues at hand,” Bell said.

Some observers said the motion was a blatant attempt by Antonovich to hold on to office, especially since 64% of voters approved capping supervisors to three consecutive terms in 2002. There were no term limits before then.

“Oh, give me a break,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a USC political scientist. “I’m astonished that [Antonovich] has the chutzpah to do this.”

Three other longtime board members are barred from seeking office again but could be eligible to continue serving if the motion becomes law: Don Knabe, Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky.

Sitting supervisors almost never face serious opponents; the last time an incumbent lost was in 1980, when Antonovich defeated Baxter Ward. Kenneth Hahn, who was in office for 40 years, is the longest serving supervisor.

The only supervisor who has served less than 15 years is Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was recently elected to his second term.

“I don’t think it’s good for a body politic not to have new blood…. It just leads to more calcifying and combining a whole bunch of powers in a small number of people,” said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A.

It’s unclear whether the other termed-out supervisors would run again. Molina declined to comment on Monday but has said she plans to retire, and Yaroslavsky has been considering running for mayor of L.A. Knabe said in a statement that he would support the item going onto the ballot but did not address whether he would seek another term.

If such a measure were adopted by voters, Los Angeles County supervisors would have some of the longest potential terms in office of any California elected officials. State legislators are limited to 12 years in office, and Orange County supervisors are barred from serving more than two consecutive terms. L.A. City Council members can serve a dozen years.

The proposed ballot item could also be misleading, some say. The proposed ordinance would “limit” any supervisor to five consecutive terms, which implies that the measure would impose term restrictions for the first time when, in reality, it extends term limits.

“It wouldn’t be the first time that ballot language wasn’t exactly an accurate description of the proposal,” Jeffe said.

But she said she wasn’t surprised that Antonovich would try to extend his time in office.

“The risk is not that great to him,” she said. “He has nothing to lose by trying.”