A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Incumbent's Beware & County Commission Term Limits

Jeremy Wallace's column today emphasizes the precarious position many incumbents find themselves in. 

He mentions the District one race:

It is a similar line of reasoning for Jono Miller, a Democrat challenging Sarasota County Commissioner Paul Mercier, a Republican. Miller said he is counting on voters wanting to try something new.

"How do we get a fresh start with the same people?" Miller asked.

Mercier, first elected in 2000, went unchallenged in 2004.

For challengers, an incumbent's tenure in office is no deterrent to running as it may have been in the past. Instead, challengers say it helps them make their case for change.

Is this trend that threatens incumbents new? I'm not sure. In my lifetime only one commissioner (Andrew Sandegren) has managed to serve more than two terms as Commissioner from the first District. 

While incumbency can be an advantage to a candidate, Wallace's column reveals it can be a liability as well.   

One example is those voters who could never vote for someone seeking a third term.  Such voters will have plenty of time to convince me of the merits of their arguments. That jury is still out. But, incumbents beware, they have made it clear that they will not be voting for my opponent. 

Just for the record, I'm not a proponent of term limits for County Commissioners.

In my opinion, there's been sufficient turnover in recent years (albeit all Republican) and there is a real risk that too many neophytes could lead to a very weak commission. The average length of service of the five present commissioners is eight years, with a range from two (Barbetta) to twelve (Staub). 

In fact, if you go back to 1980 I think the average is still about 8 years, notwithstanding the long-haulers like Bob Anderson and David Mills. We tend to remember people that were leading for a long time and may mentally skip over other community leaders like Wayne Derr, Jack O'Neil and Ray Pilon. That effect may contribute to the perception that, in general, commissioners are staying too long. 

If at some point the future the average term of service drifts up above 10 years then we should be asking if that is because everyone is doing a great job as evidenced by healthy two party competitive races or if incumbency has once again become more insurmountable. Until then, I'm comfortable with the present reality -- that incumbents must prove themselves or risk defeat. 

May 14 POSTSCRIPT:  To see how the anti-incumbent two-term limit argument manifests itself, visit this blog

Personally, I don't like the idea that disgruntled voters in 1998 might determine who I can vote for in 2008. (Maybe we're more gruntled now?) If 68% of voters still don't like commissioners to serve more than two terms, then, I would argue,  68% of them can go to the polls and vote against two term incumbents on a case by case basis. It is hard enough to find good commissioners (or even people to run), getting rid of them because of a clock seems like a waste of talent to me. 

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