The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday rejected a bid by Chairman John Moorlach to put an initiative on the June ballot that would extend the two-term limit for supervisors to three terms.
The vote was 3-2, with Moorlach and Supervisor Shawn Nelson advocating that voters be given the chance to decide whether a supervisor should have the opportunity to serve a lifetime limit of 12 years.
Supervisors Bill Campbell, Pat Bates and Janet Nguyen, however, were of the mind that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
While Moorlach admitted that his action seemed “self-serving,” he argued that longer tenures for county supervisors would yield better policy. He said when he voted for term limits back in 1990, he didn’t realize that it would trigger a version of musical chairs among elected officials.
He went on to cite an often-used conservative argument, saying, “our founding fathers seemed to trust the voters.”
Yet Moorlach was confronted on his plan by one of Orange County’s staunchest conservative leaders — Jon Fleischman, member of the Republican Central Committee and publisher of the Flash Report.
Fleischman, who is also a member of the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board, saw Moorlach’s proposal as weakening term limits and allowing current supervisors to greatly extend their time in office.
Fleischman argued, and was backed by County Counsel Nicholas Chrisos, that the ballot initiative as written would reset the clock on the terms of every incumbent supervisor, allowing them to serve three additional terms in office.
“You signed up for two terms when you ran for office,” Fleischman said.
Trudy Ohlig-Hall, vice president of the Mesa Consolidated Water District board, supported Moorlach’s effort, saying term limits rob a voter of the right to vote for or against an elected official.
“Staff is running Sacramento, not our elected officials,” Ohlig-Hall said.
Like Moorlach, Nelson said he once supported term limits but has now believes they’ve created a new class of elected official. “I don’t believe the people who supported term limits want to see people rotating in and out of office,” Nelson said.
Nelson saw no problem with adding another measure to the ballot. “I’m not offended by sending anything to the voters,” he said.
But the rest of Moorlach’s colleagues didn’t see the issue as meriting voter review.
“I’m not aware of a big problem on this board,” said Campbell. “The purpose of term limits is to offer opportunities for others to serve.”
He also didn’t like having a lifetime ban. Supervisors should be permitted to come back to the board after serving on other legislative panels and thus becoming better legislators.
Supervisor Pat Bates agreed on that point. “I’ve had the opportunity to serve at a number of levels,” and it made her a better elected official, she said.
“If there wasn’t a lifetime ban on our legislative positions, I would love to go back there,” Bates said.
She credited Fleischman’s arguments on the potential unintended consequence of extending incumbents’ terms, saying the proposal is “just not ripe yet.”
Nguyen also declined to support the idea but thanked Moorlach for raising the issue.
“I don’t support the measure,” Nguyen said, “but I do want to thank you for challenging us about what is taboo in terms of political discussions.”