State lawmakers have now officially killed a controversial effort by three Orange County supervisors’ to extend their own term limits.
The county’s elections chief has now notified county supervisors that he plans to halt work on putting the measure on the upcoming governor recall ballot – saying it’s now illegal under a state law signed Monday night that bans local ballot measures during the governor recall election.
“As a result of the recent passage of Senate Bill No. 152, my office is now legally precluded from consolidating a special election on the proposed County measure with the yet to be called statewide recall election.”OC Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley wrote to county supervisors last week
“Therefore, my intention is to pause preparations for a consolidated election,” he added.
“No action will be taken to place the board measure on the ballot,” Kelley’s office said in a separate statement.
The county supervisors who supported the measure didn’t return requests for comment.
Supervisor Katrina Foley, who voted against putting the measure on the ballot, said Kelley “made the right decision to halt everything.”
“There’s no reason to continue on with something that isn’t possible, and that would just be a waste of taxpayer resources.”
Two weeks ago, three supervisors ignited fierce public opposition from across the political spectrum when they 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.”
Conservative and liberal residents – who waited 7 hours to speak when the item was brought up at the end of the supervisor’s agenda – called the measure’s language a “sneaky” and misleading effort by supervisors to extend their own power.
The only public comments supporting the measure were from the three supervisors who voted to put it on the ballot: Lisa Bartlett, Andrew Do and Doug Chaffee.
They 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 budget trailer bills to add language banning local ballot measures from the recall election.
The bill sailed through the Legislature last Monday, passing in the Senate and Assembly and getting Gov. Newsom’s signature all in one evening.
The supervisors term limits extension effort – and the ballot language that was widely seen as deceptive – sparked opposition within both the Democratic and Republican parties.
“It’s disappointing that people we have elected to office would try to extend their term limits in such an obtuse and non-transparent way.”Jim Righeimer, the Republican former mayor of Costa Mesa, told Voice of OC
“Tricking the voters to think that a ‘lifetime ban’ is a limit, when in fact it’s giving all of them three more terms is just beyond the pale. It’s just infuriating to treat people like that. Treating the voters like they’re completely obtuse, like they have no idea – to just sneak this through.”
Bartlett is the only supervisor currently termed out in next year’s election, with other supervisors termed out in future elections.
Bartlett, Do and Chaffee could still try to hold a separate special election only on the term limits measure, though the other two supervisors say that would come with a massive cost for taxpayers.
“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,” said Supervisor Don Wagner, who opposed the term limits extension.
“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.”
County election officials estimate the cost of a standalone ballot measure election to be similar to OC’s nearly $8 million projected cost for the governor recall election in OC.
“To have a [separate] special election would just be a waste of money,” said Foley.
“I think we have a lot of really important needs in the community. We just came from announcing the site for the veterans cemetery, that’s going to need funding. We need to focus on motel conversions and housing. We have re-entry workforce development programs to develop, and open space, parks and beaches to fund,” she added.
“So I don’t think this is on my list of top priorities.”
After OC supervisors moved last week to extend their term limits with a ballot description of a “lifetime ban,” a movement developed to write arguments against the measure if it did make it onto the ballot.
“I am very disappointed that Bartlett and Do resorted to this misleading term limit proposal.”Shirley Grindle, a longtime county government watchdog in OC, who was a lead author on the county’s 1978 campaign finance ordinance as well as the 2016 county Ethics Commission
“It is so apparent that they’re putting their self interest before anything else,” she added.
As for Chaffee, who voted with Bartlett and Do to put it on the ballot, Grindle said:
“Chaffee should take another look at this. His naiveness about county politics is showing.”
Do, Bartlett and Chaffee didn’t return requests for their response to Grindle’s critiques.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.