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 Little wonder that term limits experiments have already been repealed or repudiated in six states.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 Russell Buckley on July 23, 2014 at 9:12pm

            There are a number of inaccuracies, exaggerations, diversions and way too much vitriol in the article. It sounds like Mr McIvor is angry that someone aside from the small inside group has the audacity to become involved in La Mesa politics. In an attempt to raise the level of the discussion I will resist the temptation to respond to points made not directly related to term limits and provide two reasons I believe they are a good idea.

(1) Term limits are far from a failed experiment. Our State Assembly and Senate have term limits, as do the City of San Diego and the County of San Diego - the latter having been passed in 2010 with 68.27% of the vote. Term limits are being adopted by increasing numbers of jurisdictions as citizens tire of career politicians.

(2) Many of the citizens of La Mesa are bright people with good ideas about its governance and would be happy to serve on the Council and as Mayor. Incumbents, simply by virtue of doing their jobs, have an unfair advantage at election time (consider the House of Representatives 10% approval rating and 90% incumbent reelection rate). A challenger must spend a considerable amount of money just to get the name recognition an incumbent has. Term limits enhance our democracy by evening the financial playing field and allowing a greater number of citizens to participate.

            Voters instinctively recognize the negatives of career politicians and the positives brought by new representatives with vitality and fresh ideas. That is why they so often approve term limits. But if you don't think term limits make for good governance, by all means vote against them. That is what democracy is all about. 

Comment by Patrick Dean on July 23, 2014 at 11:22am

I heartily agree!

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