On Tuesday night, the Anaheim City Council took up the Charter Review Committee’s recommendations, which staff had packaged into four proposed charter amendments for the June ballot. Anaheim voters will have the opportunity to say yes or no to changing the mayoral term from four to two years; legalizing safe and sane fireworks; and enacting a bucket of government efficiency reforms. The council unanimously rejected placing the repeal of term limits on the ballot.

july 4 fireworks patrioticLegalizing Safe and Sane Fireworks
Measure 4 would repeal the city charter’s ban on the sale and use of safe and sane fireworks, which 59% of voters approved in 1986, and the council was unanimous in its support not only for putting the measure before the voters but in hoping they would approve it.

“This is something, I think, that the people want. It’s a good thing. It brings people together on the Fourth of July, it brings neighborhoods together, and it something I wholeheartedly support,” said Mayor Tait. Well put.

As someone who strongly believes we ought to be able to celebrate our freedom and independence with safe and sane fireworks, this is a great development and continues a trend toward reversing the tsunami of fireworks bans that swept Orange County cities in the late 1980s. Fullerton voters legalized fireworks in 2012, and Westminster and Villa Park have also reversed their bans in the last few years.

Two-Year Mayoral Term
The Charter Review Committee recommended this change by a vote of 5-2, with Tom Tait and Lucille Kring’s appointees voting in opposition – and that is how their appointors voted on Tuesday night as the council voted 3-2 to place Measure 2 on the June ballot.

Given the prestige and status of the mayor’s office, and given that every other OC city with a directly-elected mayor also has two-year terms, the majority view on both the CRC and the council was that a two-year term makes the mayor responsive to the voters and increases electoral competition.

The mayor and his challenger, Councilwoman Lucille Kring, both expressed their opposition to this charter amendment.

The mayor responded that if running every two years makes the mayor more responsive, then councilmembers ought to run every two years, as well. That’s an interesting point, but it doesn’t take into account that such a change would end the practice of staggering council terms – which allows voters to significantly change the council’s make-up while avoiding the chaos that can accompany wholesale council turnover every two years. Staggered terms balance the opportunity for change with stability; having the mayor and all four councilmembers on the ballot every two years tosses that out the window.

One could argue that a two-year mayoral term enhances the ability of voters to alter the governing dynamic of their council be requiring a majority of the council to face them every two years; currently, that is only the case every four years.

The mayor’s main argument against the change has been that Anaheim voters have already spoken on this issue when they voted in 1992 to go from two- to four-year mayoral terms. [He also employed that argument against placing repeal of term limits on the ballot, pointing out that Anaheim voters overwhelmingly approved term limits in 1992.]

While good, valid policy arguments can be made for retaining the four-year term, that isn’t one of them. It amounts to saying that once the voters have spoken on an issue, it is cast in stone and can never be re-visited. If that same principle had held sway in 1992, the council would have refused to place the four-year term on the ballot because the matter had “already been decided by Anaheim voters” two decades earlier.

The mayor’s argument would carry more weight if the voters had recently enacted the four-year mayoral term, but it has been 22 years since they took up the matter. Furthermore, the mayor undermined his own argument a few minutes later when he enthusiastically (and correctly) voted to place the fireworks ban repeal on the ballot — despite the fact that matter had “already been decided by Anaheim voters” in 1986.

Kring has expressed concern that moving to a two-year term “limiting the mayor’s term to two years would force candidates to solely focus on campaigning and raising money rather than doing the work of the city.”

The concern about an inordinate focus on fundraising could be solved in simple and freedom-friendly manner: eliminate or dramatically increase campaign contribution limits. Common sense tells us it takes much more time and effort to raise a campaign war chest at $1,900 a pop than if there were no contribution limits, or at least significantly larger ones. As a matter of free political speech, government should not limit how much we can give to the candidates of our choice.

The fact that the mayor is on the ballot every two years will increase his or her name ID and generally speaking, enhance rather than sap his or her political strength. Absent scandal or publicly-recognized incompetence, the mayor will be very difficult to beat by the second or third re-election campaign (in my opinion).

Also, I haven’t seen any evidence that in the other Orange County cities with directly-elected mayors – Orange, Irvine, Garden Grove, Westminster and Santa Ana — the two-year term hampers the mayors in their ability to lead.

Ultimately, Tait and Kring supported putting the matter before the voters despite their personal opposition to it, and the council voted unanimously to place it on the ballot.

Term Limits Repeal
I was a strong supporter of term limits when the movement took off in the early 1990s, but several years ago changed my mind about them. At the state level, they produced none of the promised benefits and indeed – state government has grown bigger and more bloated and even more dominated by liberal special interests during the term limits era. And speaking as a partisan, term limits have several damaged the Republican  Party in California.

I don’t believe term limits are especially damaging at the local level, but still oppose them on philosophical terms. Absent term limits, I think it would be rare for someone to seek more than two consecutive terms on the Anaheim City Council. Practically speaking, however voters have no appetite for undoing them for the simple reason that equate eliminating or lengthening term limits with rewarding politicians, whom they (generally speaking) hold in low regard.

The Charter Review Committee voted 6-1 in favor of repealing term limits, essentially for philosophical reasons. However, there was never any real possibility the City Council would place it on the ballot and unnecessarily open themselves up to political hit pieces, so the unanimous vote against placing a term limits repeal on the June ballot was not surprising.