After the We Are Kern County coalition amassed enough signatures for its ballot initiative, voters were supplied with a decision in November pertaining to term limits for county supervisors.
Based on an item in the Board of Supervisors agenda for this week, the ballot could give voters up to four options from which to choose.
The board will evaluate at Tuesday’s morning meeting a report from County Counsel Margo A. Raison outlining three possible ballot measures to compete with the coalition's. The citizens' ordinance — supported by a group of residents, including caregivers, county workers and retirees — would limit supervisors to two total terms of four years each. The proposals listed on the board's agenda, if approved, could allow voters to choose to: 1) maintain the status quo; 2) enact limits of two “consecutive” terms; or 3) enact limits of three “consecutive” terms.
The “consecutive” provision means that a termed-out supervisor could wait four years and seek another term, or move to another district and run immediately.
The measure that gets the most “yes” votes on the November ballot takes precedence, meaning one of the alternatives could preempt the coalition's initiative, which imposes the strictest term limits.
In response, the coalition scheduled a “teach-in” next to the county administrative building Tuesday morning and public comment during the meeting.
“It just doesn’t feel like it’s a democratic process to me,” said Sandy Moreno, a proponent of the citizens’ initiative, in an interview. “And I really hope that (the board) would know or understand their own constituents, because every part of the political spectrum that we have encountered … they all already approve of term limits.”
On June 28, the board approved the coalition's measure for the November ballot, and then discussed the prospect of putting at least one alternative on the ballot. Supervisor David Couch moved to have the county counsel deliver the report that will be reviewed Tuesday. Couch did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
The report Couch requested suggests that an ordinance limiting “consecutive” terms would be “more consistent with the term limits imposed by other counties”; a previous report presented June 28 stated that “at least seven” of 10 counties with term limits use this sort of provision.
Two current supervisors, Mike Maggard and Leticia Perez, are not seeking reelection. The issue of term limits distinguishes the two candidates currently vying to replace Maggard in District 3, Jeff Flores and Brian Smith. Second District Supervisor Zack Scrivner was just elected to his fourth term in June. First District Supervisor Phillip Peters was elected to his first term in 2020. Couch is currently serving his third term. He's up for reelection in 2024.
If the citizens' measure is approved, the term limits would take effect for terms that begin after November's election.
Flores said his view as a candidate is that term limits are “antithetical to democracy,” undermining voters’ ability to pick their preferred candidates.
“It weakens representation, it weakens experience, institutional knowledge,” he said. “Especially now, I don’t think we need to empower the bureaucracy, I think we need to empower representatives that fight for the constituents.”
Flores said he isn’t sure whether the board will opt to put any of its alternatives on the ballot and that it will come down to public testimony at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Ideally, we wouldn’t need any alternatives if we just kept the natural election cycle and let the voters decide,” he said.
Smith said in an email to The Californian that term limits help keep supervisors accountable and can introduce fresh perspectives.
"I'd be disappointed if the Board chooses instead to engage in some kind of ballot gamesmanship that would frustrate citizens' calls for term limits by splitting the vote or confusing voters," he said.
He added that the board's "consecutive" provision could "encourage gamesmanship rather than service," potentially prompting supervisors to switch districts with each other or have a "loyal lackey" take over a seat for a single term.