Is There A Better Way?

By Anthony D. Mc Ivor

First of four essays on the Term Limit proposal submitted by  La Mesa Today member Anthony D. Mc Ivor. Readers are encouraged to comment below or submit formal responses to be considered for publication.

LA MESA -- La Mesa is blessed. We have a vibrant civic culture with diverse volunteer organizations; our parks echo with the joy of families at picnics and sports; the community actively supports excellent schools; our public safety agencies are first-class; our government is small and efficient; we delight in regionally-noted community events every year; and we treasure the unrestricted freedom to vote for our local officials – none of whom are remote “pols.” Perfect? No, but close.

With all that, one can only wonder “Why term limits?” And especially, “Why here?”

As we’ve seen elsewhere, term limits build nothing. They merely destroy. What’s more, they discourage participation, promote short-term thinking and corrode our civic culture in many ways, large and small.

Remember, term limits does not mean that the best person wins. Limits just banish a whole class of candidates, with no regard to merit and with no thought as to the caliber of the pretenders. Term limits do nothing to prepare people for the complex intellectual and moral challenges of public office.

Isn’t that the real issue here in La Mesa? A perennial shortage of qualified, experienced candidates with visible track records of successful service in municipal affairs? Again, term limits offer nothing for that – but maybe we can.

We do not need to mimic the mistakes of other jurisdictions. Nor follow them into the same barren dead-end. We can find much better alternatives by thinking creatively about the direction we want our cherished town to take.

So here’s a challenge for the “Neanderthals” (the adopted name of the activists behind term limits) and the rest of us to consider. Instead of using the Municipal Code to toss people willy-nilly out of office, why don’t we make a sustained effort to get the best people in?

Shifting the focus to people who can win, rather than people who should be defeated, opens new windows all along the boulevard.

Here’s one idea: Why not raise money and community support to endow a foundation or fund with public oversight to supplement the professional preparation of those La Mesans interested in local office?
By organizing mentor programs and providing modest financial support, a fund would create real-time opportunities to learn about the issues that face our city and the skills needed to address them wisely: stewardship, governance, public sector management, and regional coordination.

In collaboration with local and state institutions, the fund could arrange valuable participation in events such as the Annual Conference of the California League of Cities and access to publications such as the League’s respected monthly, Western City.

In a word, such a fund would serve to strengthen and enhance the experience now gained by those who serve admirably in La Mesa’s “farm system” of commissions and boards. And through participation and writing or speaking about it, aspiring candidates could significantly raise their public profiles.

Looking down the road, wouldn’t it be nice to say, “We live in the city of La Mesa. We don’t ban candidates; we encourage qualified people to run.”

Opposing term limits is not just about saying “No!” though clearly that is what Proposition K roundly deserves. After all, many people find the notion of surrendering even a small part of our fundamental freedoms offensive. But more broadly, opposition springs from a different vision of our civic lives. One not fueled by anger or disappointment, but by optimism and confidence.

We believe in our town. We know that making the right choices will make it better. Let’s keep our ballots unrestricted and free. And then get to work on those choices. If not now, when?

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Tags: Anthony D. Mc Ivor, Government, La Mesa Today, La Mesa newspaper, La Mesa politics, Term Limits


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Comment by Russell Buckley on September 17, 2014 at 10:13pm

            Mr. Mc Ivor - you are clearly projecting when you borrow the phrase "There you go again." Of course you brought up the subject of popularity - it is right there in black and white. Read what you wrote. And of course you used the words "unrestricted freedom of choice"  - without any qualification - that is in black and white too. But most of all, please don't speak for me ("you believe term limits is about incumbents "and that's it"). What you say is not only arrogant, but it is wrong. Just read my last contribution to this dialog. And my brief comment there is by no means all that I have to say about the positive impact of term limits.

            This exchange is getting into the mud and has probably disgusted many readers who came to be informed. So let me get back to the issue of term limits. The proposal before us requires only that after 12 years in office, an incumbent step aside for one term before running again for another 12. Your favorite politician could serve for 24 years out of 28! But even that small restriction opens the door to greater participation in government. The advantage of incumbency is blatantly obvious in almost every elected body in the country. Term limits mitigate that enormous incumbency advantage and give challengers a fairer chance, and thus more incentive to run. Contrary to what you said in your first screed - that La Mesa has "A perennial shortage of qualified candidates .." - , I believe there are more than enough capable, smart, civic minded citizens in our fine city to replace each council member after 12 years in office. By allowing more of our best and most talented citizens to participate in governing, La Mesa will benefit from the new ideas and fresh set of eyes on established practices that they bring. Term limits rid government of career politicians and the arrogance, abuses of power and favoritism that are all too common from them. Term limits are by no means a panacea to all that ails our governing bodies - but they are a small step toward better governance.


Comment by Anthony D. Mc Ivor on September 3, 2014 at 4:47pm

Ms. Moore, The word "Neanderthal" was bracketed with scare quotes, as in this sentence, to alert the reader of its special and limited use, and then immediately further clarified with a parenthetical explanation that it was the adoptive label of the handful of political activists behind what has evolved into Proposition K.  Mr. George has, in these comments, admitted that the group embraced the term, used it extensively in their communications and even changed their avatars to reflect that usage.

If you were not a part of that original group - in November, 2012 - and did not embrace the term as they did, then the reference in the article above hardly applies to you.  The text is quite clear, despite the efforts of others to muddy it for their own purposes.

That said, I regret that your misunderstanding led you to feel resentful.  And I sincerely wish it were otherwise.  


Comment by Kevin G George on September 3, 2014 at 4:46pm

One question: When was the last time you were heartbroken to have a politician termed out?

Comment by Gene Carpenter on September 3, 2014 at 4:44pm
It appears true that we all have a bit of Neanderthal in us, hoping that serves to sooth :-)
Comment by Lisa Moore on September 3, 2014 at 1:51pm

To read all these comments, I guess I can conclude that the County Board of Supervisors, City of San Diego, State of California and the US Federal Government got it all wrong when imposing "term limits".  There are some elected officials in those levels of gov't that term limits will save us from, so it can't all be bad.  As far as the term "Neanderthals", I would have to disagree that it not only refers to those who organized the signature drive, but to all of us who signed the petition.  We all believe in the same thing!  I resent being labeled as a "Neanderthal" for acting on what I believe.

Comment by Kristin Kjaero on September 3, 2014 at 1:44pm

Agreed. I really like that it is proactive, and based on a positive vision and belief in the residents in our city.

Comment by Fred Neubecker on September 3, 2014 at 1:19pm

As written in Gaurdian Liberty Voice I quote

"The city council is supposed to be made up of local business people, who are drafted out of their local population to serve. However, as is the nature of politics, every councilperson wants to be mayor, every mayor wants to be a representative, every representative wants to be a congressman, every congressman wants to be a senator and every senator wants to be president. Unfortunately, for those politicians whose innate skills will not allow them to advance up the steps to higher office, serving for decades in the same chair still allows them to amass great power."
Comment by DEXTER LEVY on September 3, 2014 at 12:05pm

At Least someone is making a suggestion that has some merit & is worth thinking about!

Comment by Gene Carpenter on September 3, 2014 at 7:26am
Very well stated Kristin, Thank You!
Comment by Kristin Kjaero on September 2, 2014 at 10:54pm

There's no inherent virtue in change; all it means is different. Just because somebody’s new doesn’t mean they have integrity any more than converse is true. We already have the means to deal with lack of integrity or corruption now: we can vote someone out or prosecute. 

Term limits pre-select what names are on the ballot and limit voters' options. The only ones to gain by that are challengers and special interests who would no longer have to win an open election.

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