Term limits and honesty

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will take up, for the second time, a proposal that would let county voters consider amending the local term limits rules. The board’s action would set a November vote for a measure allowing supervisors to serve a maximum of five terms, rather than the current three, starting from December 2002. This new version of the proposal is slightly more honest than the previous one was; that’s a small step forward, though it may not be enough.

The proposal to loosen the limits comes from the most predictable source: the board’s longest-serving member, Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who was elected in 1980 and who will be forced out in four years unless the rules are rewritten (under his proposal, he could stay in office until 2024). Antonovich quietly placed on the board’s supplemental agenda last week a motion that would have called for a vote on whether “to limit any person elected and qualified for the office of member of the Board of Supervisors to five consecutive terms.” That wording suggested that the measure was intended to tighten term limits — perhaps even to establish them for the first time. That, of course, is false.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has improved on it a bit. His proposed amendment would authorize a November vote but would make clear that the measure would “extend the term limits for any person elected to the office of the Board of Supervisors from three to five consecutive terms.”

As this page noted last week, Antonovich’s initial move was sneaky (the last-minute inclusion on the agenda stifled any broad debate), misleading (the ballot language created the impression that these were new limits rather than extensions) and self-serving (the very board members who are voting on this idea would be its beneficiaries). Two out of three of those problems have receded: A week’s delay has allowed for public discussion, and Yaroslavsky’s amendment would help make it clear what voters were being asked to do.


If members of the board believe term limits are unwise, they could reassure voters that they are not acting on self-serving motives by having the new limits go into effect only after any sitting supervisors are termed out. That would clear the way for a debate on the merits of term limits rather than one on the advisability of Antonovich and his fellow supervisors voting to extend their careers. Would they support an amendment that would elevate principle over self-interest? We may find out Tuesday.

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