Term limits: Good or bad, they're here Arundel, Howard adopt them

November 05, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

Regardless of what their constituents think of their performance in office, three of seven members of the Anne Arundel County Council will have to go in January 1994. Howard County's five council members may serve no more than another 10 years.

Such is life in the new world of term limitations.

The mood of public discontent that swept out a president and imposed congressional term limits in all 14 states where they appeared on the ballot has also reached into the workings of local government. Some politicians say it's probably just a matter of time before limits are proposed for Maryland's state legislative offices.

By overwhelming margins, voters in Anne Arundel and Howard effectively made choices this week for voters in future local elections. In Arundel, 77 percent of voters decided to limit County Council members, including incumbents, to two consecutive four-year terms. In Howard, 78 percent agreed to a limit of three four-year terms for council members elected in or after 1990.

The margin was closer in Prince George's County, where a limit of two consecutive four-year terms for council members was approved by 51 percent.

"It's a reflection of the feeling across the country," said Maureen Lamb, a Democrat who for 12 years has represented Annapolis on the Anne Arundel County Council. "I don't think it's a reflection on the job I have done" or the service of fellow Democrats David G. Boschert or Virginia P. Clagett, who will also be forced to leave office in 1994.

"I think [voters] are anxious for people not to be professional politicians," said Ms. Lamb, who announced months ago that she would not run for re-election in 1994. "I think it's a positive thing. The people are taking back their government."

Mr. Boschert, who is serving his second full term, supported a County Council proposal for a three-term limit that also appeared on the Anne Arundel ballot. But the stricter limit, proposed by the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association, prevailed with a bigger majority.

"I think the voters are upset with government in total," Mr. Boschert said. "They voted out of anger and frustration."

Asked if he believed the push for term limits would soon move to the state legislature, Mr. Boschert said "I hope so. I would be an avid supporter of limiting terms in the General Assembly."

Howard County Councilor C. Vernon Gray, a Democrat who has been in office since 1982, believes the greatest push behind term limits comes not from populist revolt, but partisan politics.

"I think it was just a Republican ploy to gain representation on the council," said Mr. Gray, a professor of political science at Morgan State University. He said he believes the voter frustration is real, but he gave Republicans "credit for going in and taking advantage of that."

In Howard County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans on the council 3-to-2, the ballot measure was proposed by Republican County Councilor Darrel Drown. But Mr. Drown said that most of the legwork in getting the 10,000 petition signatures required to place the question on the ballot was done by a citizens' group headed by Janet Sloan, a registered independent.

Besides, Mr. Drown said, "when 80 percent of the people say it and the majority of your county is Democrat, it's not Democrat versus Republican."

Mr. Drown also advocates campaign-finance reform, saying that term limits are just a start toward giving challengers a better chance against well-financed incumbents. He said he believes efforts will be made to limit the terms of the state House and Senate.

Dr. Pat Florestano, a political science professor at the University of Baltimore, said the term-limit amendments succeeded partly because they faced no organized opposition. Ms. Florestano, a senior research fellow at the Schaefer Center for Public Policy, said incumbents were on the defensive this political season and were probably reluctant to fight the term limits for fear of appearing self-serving.

As a result, she said, voters never learned the potential drawbacks of term limits.

"You negate the expertise that can develop in a good elected official," said Ms. Florestano, adding that she believes term limits shift the advantage of experience to lobbyists and bureaucrats, making government less responsive to voters. However, she said, in this political autumn of discontent, term limits "are a bad idea whose time has come."

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