Term limits and strange bedfellows

September 23, 1994

For a prime example of how politics makes strange bedfellows, look no further than the odd alliance behind the successful effort to place a term limit measure on the Nov. 8 ballot in Baltimore. If the proposal is approved by voters, the city charter would be saddled with an ill-advised amendment restricting the mayor, the comptroller and all City Council members to two four-year terms.

Organizers and backers of the ballot initiative include C. Nelson Warfield, a Montgomery County lawyer reportedly tied to a Chicago public relations firm that has assisted the campaign; Penn Parking owner Lisa Renshaw, who lives in Anne Arundel County and ran unsuccessfully in the 1992 Republican primary in Maryland's First Congressional District; former U.S. Ambassador to Austria Ronald S. Lauder of the Estee Lauder cosmetics dynasty, who failed in last year's Republican mayoral primary in New York City; and Baltimore activist Morning Sunday, who paid petitioners for each signature they obtained, a dubious tactic borrowed from the National Rifle Association's book.

These individuals have hailed their $28,000 crusade as a grass-roots expression of the public's disgust with incumbent politicians. Don't believe it. What their campaign really expresses is the frustration of people (mainly Republicans) who have been unable to gain elective office. Their interest in Baltimore amounts to using the city as a test market for future term limit initiatives.

In addition to the cast of characters advocating it, there are other good reasons city voters should spurn the charter proposal. Namely, term limits hinder each citizen's right to select the candidate of his or her choice. Term limits sweep away the effective, valuable office-holders along with the muldoons. Term limits produce flocks of lame ducks. Perhaps most disturbing, term limits can lead to less involvement by an electorate that already has difficulty working up enthusiasm for political races, as the depressingly low turnout rates of recent years attest.

Certainly the term limits movement would not be so successful as it has been nationwide if not for the many complacent and even downright crooked pols who have occupied the seats of power. Yet the voters who put them there in the first place can remove them with that time-honored term limit known as the ballot. The strange bedfellows behind the Baltimore charter amendment would have you think the measure will create more choices. For them, it might. For voters, no way.

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