If one Kern County ballot measure is successful, time could be limited for members of the Board of Supervisors.
A local group has filed an initiative that would introduce limits of two terms of four years each for the supervisors.
If organizers can gather enough signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot and if voters eventually pass the measure, the entire current board could be wiped out by 2022.
“Incumbents have a massive advantage in terms of money, media and infrastructure, which makes it difficult for newcomers to get elected,” said local activist David Abbasi, who is the proponent of the measure. “We want to get rid of career politicians and put people in that better serve the interests of Kern County.”
All five members of the Board of Supervisors have been in place since 2013, with Mike Maggard, David Couch and Zack Scrivner defeating challengers in last November’s election.
Maggard has been on the board the longest, first taking office in 2007.
The initiative seeks to apply term limits retroactively to the board, which would dramatically shorten the length of time supervisors would be allowed to serve if voters approve the measure.
However, the California attorney general has ruled in the past that term limits may only be applied after they have come into effect, meaning that if the measure becomes law, supervisors would have eight years left before they are forced to leave.
“Even if it’s not retroactive and it allows (supervisors) to do two more terms, at least we know as a community that their time is ticking,” said local activist T.J. Esposito, who first proposed the idea and recruited Abbasi to coordinate the campaign. “We’ve got to put our foot down, and we’ve got to get these term limits in place so we can have a fresh, clean slate every eight years.”
He pointed to the deputy shortage faced by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office as well as the financial hole the county has been attempting to dig itself out of as reasons for introducing the measure.
Term limits for supervisors are relatively rare in California. Of the state’s 58 counties, only eight have enacted limits for supervisors, according to the California State Association of Counties.
In 2010, voters in San Diego County approved a limit of two four-year terms for supervisors.
The measure was heavily supported by labor unions, according to local media. Proponents of the measure clashed with San Diego authorities, who echoed sentiments that are often brought up by term-limit opponents.
“Term limits is a fools errand that only helps perpetuate inexperience, mediocrity and special interest control,” San Diego County Administrative Officer Walt Ekard said in an email sent from his official government address, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported at the time. “Let’s do things the old-fashioned way and just trust the voters to decide whom they want to represent them.”
Abbasi said he modeled the Bakersfield measure after San Diego and a similar one in San Francisco.
The Kern County counsel is in the process of reviewing the measure's language in order to prepare a ballot title and summary.
The stipulation that the term limit apply retroactively may be struck down during that process, but the measure's proponents will know either way before mid-August.
Esposito said he planned to raise $250,000 to support the measure, $100,000 of which he had already received “hard commitments” for.
He added that a group of blue-collar Kern County residents is standing behind the term limit measure, but he does not want to reveal their identities just yet.
“They are blue-collar people, working people, who are just getting hosed every day,” he said. “That’s the best I can do in regards to giving up the coalition. Right now, it’s a little early.”
In order for the measure to qualify for the March 2020 ballot, proponents will need to gather at least 20,338 signatures by Dec. 6.
Abbasi, who previously qualified a measure for the March 2020 ballot that would allow sales of medical cannabis, said he might purposefully wait to qualify the measure for November in hopes that will better its chances of passing.
“It’s something that we need," he said of term limits. “We need desperately some change and some reform in Kern County. We can all agree on that.”