Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Campaign update #13


One day after losing her battle to put an anti-term limits referendum on the ballot in November without successfully collecting the signatures, the Palm Beach Post reports that the mayor has bounced back with another strategy to finagle a third term.

Of course, the current 8-year term limit law permits her to run for a third term after sitting out a term, but this is insufficient. After all, if she sits out a term she will not be able to run again in a low-turnout election with all the powers of an incumbent strong mayor.

But she apparently feels she needs to have her position to keep it. This is likely true, and a prime reason for having an 8-year consecutive term limit.

So now she is arguing that if her petition drive is successful this summer -- it is reported she has collected 2,000 of the 5,800 signatures she needs -- that the issue must be put to a special election before the regular March mayoral election.

Both the practicality and legality of this are in dispute. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher is skeptical she could put together a special election between November and March. Plus the cost to the city of a special election -- excluding the cost to the citizens and the mayor in an election battle over term limits -- is estimated at $100,000.

State statutes say the ballot question can be placed at either the next general election or at a special election, according to the Palm Beach Post.

If the signatures aren't collected in time, the question is moot. And so far, the drive has faltered. But the next big battle in the mayor's quest to toss over our popular term limits law may center around these points. Stay tuned.


This committee has been arguing that an anti-term limits referenda should only appear on the ballot if the required signatures are collected. Then the question should appear on the March, or subsequent ballot, as law and practicality require. We highly respect the citizen initiative process and want it to operate the same way for the mayor as it would for the citizens.

However, if indeed it comes to a vote, we are not worried about the outcome. As noted in this blog, 2009 polling show that in Southeast Florida 76% of the people oppose weakening term limits from eight to 12 years. Plus, in 2002, 70% of voters approved 8-year term limits for Palm Beach County Commissioners. West Palm Beach's 8-year term limit itself was approved by voters and there has never been any evidence of citizen dissatisfaction.

There is also evidence from other municipalities that people will not vote to weaken their 8-year term limits. In fact, looking at municipal elections in 2008, we could not find a single case where citizens at a ballot box chose to weaken 8-year term limits. While there is no comprehensive list of such elections, searching media reports in November 2008 suggest a 100% victory of the people over the self-interested politicians challenging 8-year term limits.

For example, in North Miami in 2008, mayoral term limits were on the chopping block and the people voted 67% to 33% to retain them as is. In Daytona Beach, the bid to overturn 8-year term limits was shot down by voters 64% to 36%. There are more examples around the country and they'll be many more in 2010.

We are not worried about losing at the ballot box. We are concerned with the enormous expense in terms of sweat and treasure that comes with an election, when the result is not really in question. We are concerned with rules being bent and all pointless expense incurred for the (long shot) benefit of a single powerful politician.

That a mayor has the power to threaten this is, at core, the main argument for term limits. The people will win again. The questions are, will the rules by fair and how much will it cost us?


Local TV Channel 25 WPBF ran a segment just as the contentious Aug. 9 city commission meeting was getting started. Rick Shepherd, chair of the Keep West Palm Beach Term Limits Committee, once again represented the people well in making the case 8-year term limits and against the bending the rules for the benefit of a single politician.