This tumultuous year has proven the essential nature of nonpartisan local news. Every day we bring you news critical to staying informed and active in the community. Join us with a tax-deductible donation.
A controversial Orange County ballot measure to extend county supervisors’ term limits now faces uncertainty – as Sacramento leaders move to ban local ballot measures from the upcoming governor recall election.
“I believe this bill, if passed, would block the term limit reset and extension from the recall ballot,” OC Supervisor Don Wagner, who opposes the term limits measure, told Voice of OC on Friday.
The other four county supervisors didn’t return messages for comment.
On Tuesday, Orange County supervisors narrowly voted to put a measure on the recall ballot that would extend their term limits while describing it on the ballot simply as a “lifetime ban after three terms.”
There was a wave of opposition from residents on both sides of the political aisle, and the only public comments supporting the measure were from the three supervisors who voted to put it on the ballot: Lisa Bartlett, Doug Chaffee and Andrew Do.
The supervisors who support the measure said it would create a lifetime ban similar to state lawmakers and many other counties, while Do acknowledged it would extend the current supervisors’ limits by another 12 years.
The next day, top state legislators amended a budget trailer bill called AB 152 to add language that would ban any local ballot measures from the recall election, unless the local measure was put on the ballot by June 15.
That could block the OC measure, since supervisors first took action on June 22 to put it on the recall ballot.
The new bill language is officially coming from the top of the state Legislature.
“The Speaker’s Office has been handling AB 152 & the negotiations surrounding that bill,” said Nannette Miranda, spokeswoman for Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee that is managing the trailer bill.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s office said Friday it was working on getting answers to Voice of OC’s questions about why the language was inserted into the bill and what the next steps are.
The move comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose Democratic Party has a supermajority in the state Legislature, faces a recall election in the coming months.
That supermajority means Democratic legislators and Newsom can make laws go into effect immediately, rather than waiting until Jan. 1, if nearly all Democrats vote for a bill and Newsom signs it.
If supervisors can’t get the term limits measure on the ballot until the next primary election – a year from now – it could be too late for it to extend terms in time for Bartlett to be able to run for re-election.
That’s because she’s currently termed out and her final term ends in next year’s election.
But could supervisors call their own special election this fall or winter to try to get the measure passed in time?
“I don’t know whether the board could call a special election. There are limits on that and I’ve not looked further into it since I see no chance it happens,” Wagner said.
“The cost would be exorbitant and, by definition, affect only one person: Supervisor Bartlett, since she is the only person on the planet immediately facing a term limit the ordinance would be trying to change,” he added.
“No one else would be affected such that they could not wait for the matter to go on the next regularly scheduled ballot and the cost of a special election thus be avoided.”
As far as Sacramento changing the law to ban new local measures from the recall ballot, Wagner said he’s “unsurprised” and expects the amendment to pass.
“I believe the majority party correctly worries that a term limit measure such as this one will bring out voters who otherwise might not come to the polls and who would be more sympathetic to the idea of recalling the governor,” Wagner said.
“Those are precisely the voters the Sacramento majority does not want to come out in this special election. So they move to suppress votes by changing the rules in the middle of the game,” added Wagner, who serves as co-chair of the recall effort.
There was no immediate response to his comments from Rendon’s office.
“I saw the same sort of thing when I was in the Legislature and the majority party limited the type and number of voter initiatives that can go on the primary election ballot,” said Wagner, a former state assemblyman.
“They manipulated the ballot to increase the chances of the outcome they want. That is what they’re doing here.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.