A coalition of Kern County advocacy groups has come up with a solution to a problem that does not exist.
Three local unions, environmental and political advocacy organizations, the Dolores Huerta Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Southern California have submitted paperwork to the Kern County Elections Division to qualify a measure for the 2022 election to set term limits for county supervisors.
To qualify the measure for the ballot, the group must collect more than 20,338 signatures of registered voters — 10 percent of the total number of county votes cast in the 2018 gubernatorial election.
“Our coalition’s collective feeling is that the board members understand very well they could spend a lifetime in their seats,” said Sonja Bennett, a retired Kern County employee, during a recent news conference. “Without accountability, the odds are good they can stay in their seats if they choose to.”
Before you get your pens out and start signing the coalition’s petitions, consider the track records for current and past supervisors.
Of the current five board members, only 3rd District Supervisor Mike Maggard has served more than three terms. He assumed office in 2007 and his present four-year term expires Jan. 1, 2023. Early next year, Maggard is expected to announce if he will run again.
Of the more than 100 people elected to the board since the 1800s, only three served more than 20 years — W. R. Woollomes, District 1, in the early half of the 20th century; Vance Webb, District 4, from 1953 to 1977; and Henry Jastro, District 5, at the turn of the 20th century. Many past board members served only one term or less, with the most common multiple terms being two or three four-year terms.
So, who are all those people the coalition says would want to spend their lifetime on the board?
And why does the coalition call today’s supervisors “unaccountable?” Their activities are governed by multiple federal, state and local laws, including those requiring them to conduct their meetings in public and disclose their financial interests.
Every four years they stand for re-election. They also are subject to recall if they are unresponsive to the needs of their constituents, or exhibit corrupt behavior.
Coalition members say they want fresh ideas and perspectives on the board. Fair enough, but that can come from veteran board members, as well as new ones. The coalition also complained about a lack of funding for roads, libraries and public parks — spending that is at the mercy of the ups and downs of property tax.
Limiting terms in office is not a new concept. Limits on certain offices, including president, date back decades.
But the movement to limit terms of state and local elected officials gained steam in the 1990s, with California leading the way to enact voter-approved limits on state legislative terms. As of 2019, 21 states had term limit laws governing state legislators, with 36 states placing limits on the time governors can serve. In California, a few counties and cities also have term limits — mostly three four-year terms; some two terms.
Term limits have been championed as a means of curbing wasteful government spending, creating more diverse legislatures and elective boards, and shifting responsiveness from interest groups to the people.
After more than three decades of a term-limited Legislature, can Californians really say there is less wasteful spending, more diversity and less influence over legislators by lobbyists?
Is the State of California better governed today than before term limits?
California counties and cities that limit service on boards of supervisors and city councils include San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles, just to mention a few. Are they better managed and more responsive to their citizens than those without limits?
So, why would you think a term-limited board of supervisors will better serve Kern?