Eliminate term limits for Board?

Ben Shore's picture

Term limits seem like a good idea. We don't want people who can run again and again and again just because they have a cushy job. They can become "career politicians" and it's often good to have fresh blood and new ideas. But, in times like these when we have such grave deficits and problems, is it really the best idea to force people out who are familiar with and fully understand the issues? It would take so much time for others to learn what the term limited person already knows. San Francisco's Board of Supervisors is an example. Term limiting them means they are often unable to do the jobs we need them to do.

Eric Jaye's picture

Probably never happen -

Probably never happen - because most voters like term limits so much. But just look at the disaster in Sacramento to see the logical conclusion of term limits. The city is run by professional staff, lobbyists, the associations and (gasp) political consultants.


I had an insight a while back. I was with a client in Sacramento who wanted to run for Assembly and I was taking this client around to see folks. She finally asked me – “How come we are not going to see that many Assembly members?” I had to admit, “By the time you get to know them they are gone.”

The system of entrenched politicians was bad. But revolving door politicians largely controlled by unelected staff and lobbyists are worse.

It we could create a level campaign playing field – with fewer advantages for incumbents, we could get rid of term limits and just vote the bad elected officials out of office. But short of that – a reform that would give the electeds a little more time to serve would be a significant reform. 12 years is enough time to learn the ropes and make a difference – but not a lifetime. 

bobbyh's picture

What if...

I think Eric's point about incumbents being difficult to unseat is the crux of the problem, because without term limits, certain politicians could lock down a seat with virtually no chance of being voted out just by virtue of how the system works.  Here's one idea to add to the mix, and I haven't thought it out completely, but curious what others think about it: what if we got rid of term limits, but had a system that "handicapped" incumbents who have been in office for a certain period of time?  I.e. more stringent restrictions on campaign spending for incumbents in future elections after they have held a seat for a certain period of time. 

I can think of a few of other types of handicaps, though I don't know how legal any of them would be, with I think the most interesting being a higher threshold for victory for incumbents (i.e. incumbents after a certain # of years in office would have to win future elections by a certain % to hold the seat or else the next top vote getter wins).  How about incumbents being forced to be listed last on the ballot or bolding challengers' names on the ballot? What are some other types of ways to level the playing field people think could work so that incumbents would have to prove widespread, grassroots support as opposed to just name ID carrying them over the line year after year?

Eric Jaye's picture


Love the idea of a handicap, but probably bumps up against the pesky "one person one vote" rule. What about tilting public financing toward challengers to try an equalize the incumbent advantage? Most incumbents get the "Frank" advantage, where they can mail to constituents between elections. And of course they get a big push through press coverage.  A smarter system of public financing of campaigns could help challengers overcome these incumbent advantages.

Juan Carlos Sanchez's picture

Lance Armstrong

I've never understood the logic behind term limits. Yes, I recognize the "career politician" label elected officials may gain by serving for a long time and I recognize the advantages that long-time incumbents accumulate (mostly through name ID and $$$) - but, I'm not about to start hating on Lance Armstrong for winning the Tour De France a record seven consecutive times. The guy was THAT good.

Our democratic system must have faith in us, the electorate, to make the best decision on who is best to represent our interests. And, if a certain "career politician" is winning elections like Lance was winning the Tour De France, then, it's because the people have faith in their elected leader.

So, I say let our supervisors serve San Francisco until we, the people, decide their time is up. Ill gladly re-elect a seasoned supervisor to a 3rd term over a novice I don't know much about.

gcotter's picture

Term limits could be modified

Term limits can be both good and bad for both the citizens and the politicians.  Citizens may vote blindly with little understanding of what a candidate represents and, as stated above, once someone is in office it's hard to get them out because name recognition trumps platform.  Without term limits we don't get new blood, energy or ideas into the mix.  

I think term limits help politicians as well.  Look at the number of local pols who went on to higher office after serving two terms on the BOS?  The State and Country benefit when good politicians move up the ladder, and term limits free up slots at the higher levels for them to move into.

I do think we could get the benefits of both term limits and no term limits by inserting the word "Consecutive" into the language.  Board members could serve up to two consecutive terms but would then be ineligible to run for a place on the board for two consecutive terms after leaving office.  That would give newcomers a chance to get into politics but not prevent someone from returning to the Board at a future date.  Someone could serve for 8 years, go for a different local office or even a state office for 8 years and then try for the Board again.

DonRoss's picture

Local Leaders Need Term Limits

As someone who grew in a parochial, entrenched, non-term limited City on the East Coast, I have to say that term limits are refreshing at the local level. 8 years is enough time for someone to serve both City Council (Board of Supervisors) and Mayor, and yes, if they'd like to serve again after a hiatus, they are more than free to run again.

But as Eric points out, in Sacramento, when you're dealing with a steep learning curve, the idea that by the time you learn the ropes, your term is up, is a disservice to the citizens of California. It is an example of how directing so much policy and energy towards one person - Willie Brown - can be extremely hurtful to an entire system. We have term limits at the State level because Willie Brown was so crafty and kept getting elected to the leadership. Maybe they should have term limited positions of power - like the Speaker, Pro Tem, etcetera, and not the office holder. You keep the institutional knowledge, but diminish the power.

Right now, as Eric points out, we do have state run by others not elected to serve.

Can you imagine if we had some of the pervious class of Supervisors that were not term limited out at the Board still - bad news. But instead we have a fresh crop of committed individuals who are more motivated and bring fresh ideas to the table. I say, keep term limits at the local level, but reform the term at the State Level - 12 -16 years seems long enough, or limit the amount of time they can be in leadership positions. But the office of governor, seems right.

VRB's picture

Eliminate Term Limits for the Board?

My grandfather used to say "Never wish the king dead."  However, do we really want to make institutions of the clowns who spend  City time posturing, violating common sense and flouting reality?  The only benefit that I see is that it keeps them out of higher office.  But is it our duty to support them when we already have a zoo?

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137