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

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Term Limited Lame Duck Side Effects Coming Home to Roost?

One newspaper column doesn't constitute vindication -- it barely rises to the level of affirmation, but today's (September 12, 2013) Sarasota Herald Tribune features a front page Jeremy Wallace column "Term limits causing ripples" that

"has some critics wondering if commissioners are more willing to curb public records access, reverse restrictive land-use policies and take on the county administrator without the prospect of having to run for election again.
“It doesn’t look like they are looking at the voters as much,” said Lourdes Ramirez, a community activist from Siesta Key who has been considering running for the County Commission herself."

On October 6th, 2011, I posted a blog I believe . . . term limits for County Commissioners with the following argument against term limits for Sarasota County Commissioners. I argued term limits would:
3) create guaranteed lame ducks with no second term accountability to an electorate, because once they get elected to a second term they need never consider the electorate again. If they are good commissioners they can vote their conscience, but if they are not so good they can act on behalf of their supporters, further their own interests, or generally thumb their nose at the electorate. ( And the whole premise of term limits seems to be based on the proposition that, if not initially rotten, elected officials soon turn towards the dark side.)

In his column Wallace recounts the curious sequence that led to us having four lame duck commissioners at one time. And that no doubt makes the situation more obvious. But I would argue this pattern was likely to emerge even with 60/40 split instead of 80/20. 

Then in November of 2011 I posted another blog Term Limits: Stifling Competition?, hypothesizing what I called Potential Contender Backoff (PCB) [political scientists probably have a real term for this phenomenon] in which I argued 

". . .instead of fostering challenges, two term limits may inadvertently give people a pass on their second term, functionally creating what amounts to an eight year term -- not a great outcome if candidate X is only a mediocre commissioner."

So, I was, and am, predicting that some of the many ramifications of term limits for Sarasota County Commissioners will be fewer, not more, challenges for first term incumbents as well as second term commissioners less responsive to the electorate. 

I'm not saying that will happen in every case, or even that our current commission's behavior is necessarily the result of term limits. But I continue to believe that letting 26,000 primary voters in 1998 determine who 283,189 registered voters vote for County Commissioners in the Twentifirst century was a dangerous and debilitating mistake. And, if I am correct, there will be no pleasure in finding out.
Bottom line: the combination of PCB and lame duck status is likely to make Sarasota County Commissioners more entrenched and less accountable. We can bemoan that this likely outcome was underanticipated, ignored, or otherwise given short shrift, but it was not, contrary to Jeremy's column, unexpected -- it was predicted. 


N.B. I have a total of seven or eight blog postings dealing with term limits (you can search for them), including a strange posting in which I aligned myself with Dave Waechter - proving not only that I am flexible, but fallible too.

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