What’s Going On In La Mesa Politics?

 This will be an eventful year. A small band of political activists is drafting a surprising coda to the city’s centennial. Their mischief pushes the notion of voter sovereignty into the balance for the first time in the city’s history. 

 After nearly 25 years of failed experiments elsewhere, the flawed and still unproven notion of term limits is making an appearance on the November ballot in La Mesa. The initiative to add a term limits ordinance to city law follows a pattern well-established elsewhere: a few determined activists, clever language, an imaginary peril and deep pockets. 

 To see how that pattern plays in La Mesa, we can follow the money.   

 According to the initial Form 460 disclosure documents required by law, almost 97% percent ($9,748) of the financial contributions to the local term limits committee came from a single, sitting council member and her family.

 The signature gathering work was performed under contract by a professional political firm in La Jolla. The firm paid $1.25 to $1.50 for each signature, for a total of $8308 of the Committee’s initial budget. The activists’ claim that this was a “grassroots” effort is pure fiction. 

 Can you recall even a mention of term limits for La Mesa until this paid-in-full campaign started flogging the notion? The “people” did not clamor to have this regulation imposed on them and for good reason – they still cherish the right to freely vote their choices.

 The reality is that term limits are political junk food – they look OK, but are toxic to the body politic in the long run. Why? Because they do swift and enduring damage to our citizens’ most sacred right: the ability to exercise an unrestricted vote.

 The case for term limits relies on bunk history, acceptance of fantasy claims and a large dose of wishful thinking. Little wonder that term limits experiments have already been repealed or repudiated in six states. In La Mesa, there is no credible case for term limits at all. 

 What is going on then? 

 Well, some folks from the same small circle behind term limits are also advocating that the City Clerk position be removed from the ballot and filled by appointment. From ballot to government billet as it were. And these busy souls are now on record with the next goal: to make the office of mayor an unelected position that would rotate among members of the Council.

 Together with term limits, these proposed actions would result in three consecutive smackdowns of La Mesa voters. It appears we are about to experience an unprecedented, coordinated, and well-financed assault on the fundamental freedom of city voters to elect public officials of their own choosing. This is a cheerless prospect, with negative consequences for all of us.  

 Voting for civic officials is about more than strict accountability. It is about an engaged citizenry, a sense of ownership and community ties. These direct, familiar connections between citizens and city leadership help make La Mesa the special place that it is. To diminish them is to erode our civic culture. Given the rifts that divide our country today, does anyone seriously think that’s a good idea? And to what end? 

 La Mesans will likely see through this ill-considered, short-sighted demarche and preserve the integrity of the electoral process. We respect majority votes; we are wary of gimmickry. And perhaps most importantly, we prefer to vote our consciences freely – unrestricted by city ordinance, no matter how well-financed. We can start by defending our freedom to choose, with a firm No! to term limits.

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Tags: Government, La Mesa Today, Term Limits

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Comment by Anthony D. Mc Ivor on July 25, 2014 at 5:48pm

Mr. Kidwell: Your post provides a very interesting perspective.  Given the level of precision the Founders gave to the eligibility requirements, isn't it all the more remarkable that they flatly rejected term limits. 

They thought about them, wrote about them, argued the merits vigorously but in the end, they cast term limits into the waste bin. 

The Founders sided with the voters. They decided not to tamper with the citizens' fundamental freedom to choose. 

And so should we. 

Comment by Don Wood on July 25, 2014 at 5:44pm

Let's go at this from another angle. Years ago, the conservatives in the state Senate and Assembly got tired of being pushed around by Willy Brown and other long serving Democrats. So they proposed term limits, and used Brown as a prime example of why incumbency have to be limited.

After term limits were adopted for those two bodies by the voters, the labor unions and Democrats got even more organized. Today, Democrats control Sacramento, and observers generally agree that out state government is less honest and less effective than it was before term limits.

Rookie legislators, looking for their next elective office, are often dictated to by long serving lobbyists, who have the resources to help them campaign for their next office, and the institutional memory to control the agenda in the state capitol. If you asked the activists who promoted state term limits today if they think the legislature is better or worse than it was before term limits, what do you think they'd say?  How do you expect things to turn out any difference if La Mesa voters adopted city council term limits?

Comment by Scott H. Kidwell on July 25, 2014 at 5:13pm

The founders did place restrictions on serving in elected federal office.

The required qualifications are found in Article 1 of the Constitution:

House of Representatives
-         25 years of age
-         A citizen of the United States for at least 7 years
-         At the time of election, be a resident of the state

U.S. Senate
-         30 years of age
-         A citizen of the United States for 9 years
-         At the time of election, be a resident of the state

Section 1 of Article Two of the United States Constitution sets forth the eligibility requirements for serving as president of the United States:

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
Comment by Kevin G George on July 25, 2014 at 4:53pm

My apologies, I'll try to mend my ways and live up to your strict expectations.

But one question: If incumbency is not a factor in being elected, why has no non-incumbent won an election in La Mesa since 1990?

It defies logic.

Comment by David Smyle on July 25, 2014 at 4:53pm

How restrictive is this really?  Someone could potentially serve 24 out of 28 years!!!!!!  Is that not enough for you???  Ok then they could potentially serve 36 out of 44 years.  Having to take four years off will not do any reparable harm to the voters or the City.  Stop your whining about not being able to elect who you want.  

Comment by Anthony D. Mc Ivor on July 25, 2014 at 4:22pm

Mr. George: Why not share with readers the very next line in Mr. Jefferson's letter to Edmond Pendleton? It reads: "Yet I could submit, tho' not so willingly to an appointment for life, or to anything rather than a mere creation by & dependence on the people." 

Not quite a ringing endorsement of term limits, is it?

It is generally unwise to cherrypick sentences from the correspondence of the Founders.  (In the same letter Mr. Jefferson wrote this: "I have ever observed that a choice by the people themselves is not generally distinguished for it's wisdom.)  As these men wrestled with the nation's foundational ideas, their thought ranged far and wide. 

Better then to consider what the Founders actually did.  And as Mr. Wood points out, they ultimately decided to set aside the notion of term limits in favor of terms of office - leaving the filling of those offices to the voters, exercising their franchise freely, without the encumbrance of regulation.

Why would we choose to ignore their lead and impose a restrictive ordinance on La Mesa voters now?  What could possibly justify such a sudden regulatory incursion here in La Mesa? 

Comment by Kevin G George on July 25, 2014 at 4:17pm

"The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all."

JFK

Comment by David Smyle on July 25, 2014 at 4:16pm

And if the Founding Fathers wanted to give Congressional and local and state representatives lavish pay and benefits, they would have but they didn't.  What a stupid argument Don.   Guess the various amendment to the constitution are all bunk going back to the first one.   

Comment by Don Wood on July 25, 2014 at 3:58pm

If the founding fathers wanted to adopt term limits in the constitution for state or local elected officials, they could have. They didn't.

Comment by David Smyle on July 25, 2014 at 3:51pm

Don  

The 22nd amendment to the us constitution applies term limits to the president - so we stand by the constitution because it imposes term limits on the most important elected office 

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