Tuesday, October 25, 2016

term limits won't make montgomery county republican, and they won't stop development either

A broad coalition of people who are frustrated with Montgomery County government have thrown their support behind giving elected officials term limits, which will be on the ballot next month. The people behind the effort tend to be conservative and anti-development, but Montgomery is unlikely to become those things even if term limits happen.

Term Limits 4 Council Now
Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.

Earlier this year, local activist Robin Ficker successfully collected the 10,000 signatures needed to have a vote on whether the county council and county executive should be limited to three terms, known as Question B. The cause has attracted a wide variety of supporters, from Republicans unhappy with the county's openness to immigrants to civic groups who oppose new development in the county. These groups hope that they can get rid of sitting councilmembers and, in 2018, vote in ones who agree with them.

Robin Ficker at Colesville McDonald's
Robin Ficker after I interviewed him at a McDonalds in 2009. Photo by the author.

Montgomery County Democrats seem worried that this will actually happen. They have dubbed term limits an "attack on progressive government," as all nine County Councilmembers are Democrats. The campaign to stop Question B is mostly funded by sitting councilmembers, even though four of the five who would lose their seats probably aren't going to run for reelection anyway.

But much to the disappointment of supporters (and the relief of opponents), Question B's success won't change who Montgomery County's voters are.

Term limits aren't going to turn Montgomery red

For starters, two-thirds of Montgomery voters are Democrats, and as political strategist Adam Pagnucco notes, Question B is anticipated to pass due to their support. And the county Republican Party has fielded some pretty weak candidates who don't seem to know they're running in a majority-minority jurisdiction.

In 2014, the county GOP had to pull support from County Council hopeful Jim Kirkland after he made anti-Semitic statements. Current school board candidate (and former congressional candidate) Brandon Rippeon is a birther. Republican Dan Cox, currently running for Congress in District 8, sprayed his own campaign signs with smelly liquids so people wouldn't steal them. (Of course, it doesn't help that the Republican Party's standard-bearer this year is basically a white supremacist.)

Term limits aren't going to stop growth, either

Term limits don't bode well for the anti-growth faction, either. Development simply isn't a wedge issue the way it used to be, as Montgomery County is growing more slowly than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Civic Federation, which is sometimes anti-development and endorsed term limits, is losing members. And a Silver Spring resident who may be angry at the County Council for allowing townhouses to be built in her neighborhood, won't convince someone in Germantown to vote for term limits because of it.

In fact, many neighbors actually want more development in town centers like Wheaton. That's why elected officials who won on slow-growth platforms 10 years ago, like county executive Ike Leggett and councilmember Roger Berliner have championed the redevelopment of White Flint or building bus rapid transit. Marc Elrich has remained the lone anti-development voice on the council, even after a strong (but unsuccessful) council campaign from Beth Daly in 2014.

Voters have other reasons for supporting term limits

That's not to say that Montgomery County voters aren't upset. Voters may choose term limits because they're unhappy about taxes or school overcrowding or traffic or Metro delays or liquor control, or all of those things. They might feel that Question B, which would limit elected officials to twelve years, gives politicians an ample amount of time to do what they promise.

If term limits pass, several seats on the County Council will open up (which may happen anyway, even if if term limits don't come to be). And in 2018, a bunch of progressive, generally pro-growth Democrats will run, and some of them will get elected. The risk is that those new councilmembers will be less experienced than their predecessors, and may be more prone to influence from lobbyists.

But one thing won't change: the voters who put them into office. If you want to see a dramatic change in the direction Montgomery County is going, you'll have to get rid of them, not the politicians.

1 comment:

Paul M. Bessel said...

This is an excellent analysis of the important question: "What will happen to MoCo government if term limits are adopted. The answer is nothing, other than having more Council Members who are inexperienced and thus are more open to what lobbyists tell them.