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A backlash is brewing as Orange County supervisors revive a failed proposal from last year to have voters extend their consecutive term limits while describing it on the ballot simply as a “lifetime ban after three terms.”
If approved by voters, the proposal would allow Supervisor Lisa Bartlett to run for re-election next year and other supervisors to run again in future elections, despite being termed out of office under the current law’s limit of two consecutive terms.
Supervisors are scheduled to decide Tuesday whether to put it to voters during the upcoming special recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom, which could take place as soon as September or October.
The new proposal was first introduced publicly Thursday evening on page 733 of the supervisors’ supplemental agenda, with no cost estimate and no mention of which supervisors asked for it to be put forward.
“The measure looks to take advantage of the voters’ support of term limits, by making it sound like it’s this great lifetime ban – when the reality is it’s a sneaky maneuver by sneaky politicians to get out from under the current term limits,” said Jon Fleischman, an OC-based conservative activist who formerly served as executive director of the California Republican Party.
“It does the opposite of what it purports to do. It literally guts term limits, while making the voter think that it strengthens term limits,” added Fleischman, who publishes the Flash Report and said he’s not supporting anyone for Bartlett’s seat.
Bartlett, who proposed a similar term limits extension measure last year, didn’t return phone messages asking whether the new proposal is about her wanting to run for another term as supervisor.
Supervisor Don Wagner says he opposes the proposal, calling it misleading.
“I oppose term limits. They are undemocratic, and every term has a limit which the public can exercise by voting against the incumbent. But I oppose this particular effort to undo term limits because it misleadingly suggests that it tightens term limits through a lifetime ban,” Wagner told Voice of OC.
“What it fails to say is that it actually extends by 12 years the existing limits for all of us currently on the board. I would support a term limit extension that is not a self-serving benefit to me and other incumbents. Unfortunately, that is not this measure,” he said.
Under current law, supervisors can hold office for two back-to-back terms – totaling 8 years – and then must leave.
After a “cooling off” period, they can run again later for up to eight more years at a time.
The new ballot proposal would delete those limits and replace them with a lifetime limit of 12 years, which can be served consecutively.
That would allow supervisors who are currently termed out to run for another consecutive four-year term.
Bartlett is the first of the current supervisors to be termed out, with her second term expiring next year.
Supervisor Katrina Foley said Friday she just learned of the proposal and was asking questions of the county’s attorney.
The other two supervisors – Andrew Do and Doug Chaffee – didn’t return phone messages for comment.
While the proposed measure would extend the current supervisors’ consecutive term limits, voters would be told on the ballot that it’s simply “A LIFETIME BAN AFTER THREE TERMS IN OFFICE FOR MEMBERS OF THE ORANGE COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.”
“They’re proposing, in big screaming letters, ‘Create a lifetime ban, close the loophole.’ And unless the voter does some pretty good research, they wouldn’t know that it moves it from two terms to three terms,” said Fleischman.
“And nowhere does it mention the very important fact that all of the supervisors will have their terms reset. And all of the Republican [supervisors], including Lisa, have complained about [the state Attorney General] twisting the terms on [state] ballot measures” to make them fail or succeed, he added.
“And this is the same practice.”
While last year’s term limits extension was proposed by Bartlett and Chaffee, this time the proposal officially is from the supervisors’ attorney, County Counsel Leon Page. He declined to comment.
Page’s staff report says the measure would align the county’s lifetime term limits with those of state legislators.
Bartlett’s spokeswoman, Pauline Colvin, said Friday morning she didn’t believe Bartlett had “any kind of role at all” in getting the item on the supervisors’ agenda, but would check with Bartlett to confirm.
She didn’t have an answer later in the day, saying Bartlett was in meetings.
The term limits extension is sparking questions about its affect on how supervisors redraw their district lines this year for the next decade – thus choosing which voters are in their district – depending on whether supervisors can run again.
Tuesday’s board meeting is slated to be chock full of major items – including adopting the final $8 billion budget, a presentation on redistricting that will affect a decade of representation in OC, and the term limits ballot measure.
It also will be the supervisors’ first meeting after the state lifted almost all coronavirus restrictions.
County officials have been discussing whether or not to allow the general public into the supervisors’ meeting room – which hasn’t happened in over a year – and whether masks will be required and enforced.
As for the ballot measure, Fleischman said if supervisors move forward with it, it very well may succeed given the misleading language.
“That’s a pretty good scheme, right?” he said.
“Because who’s going to raise the kind of money it would take to talk to voters in a special election in September or October of this year, to let them know it doesn’t do what it says it does,” he added.
“So it’s a cynical play. It may be a successful play.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.