Anne Arundel voters have a choice of two charter amendments that would limit the terms of County Council members. They don't need either of them.
Question C, petitioned to the ballot by an anti-property tax group, would retroactively limit council members to two consecutive four-year terms, forcing out three current legislators. Question B, introduced by the council, restricts council members to three terms. It would not count the time incumbents have served, allowing them to stay in office 12 more years.
Term limit advocates say they need such measures to prevent people from making a career of elected office and to ensure that incompetent representatives get ushered out. In fact, we already possess the power to get rid of them every four years, simply by pulling a lever for someone else.
"But it's so hard to defeat an incumbent," people say. Often it is. Incumbency carries several advantages. An incumbent's name becomes well-known. He or she amasses a base of support and develops ties to local party organizations and leaders that make it easier to raise money. Still, incumbents in local races have been beaten. In almost every recent election, someone has paid the price for being too complacent about the security of elected office. In 1990, four-term county councilman Edward C. "Buddy" Ahern of Pasadena was beaten; last spring, Rep. Beverly Byron of Western Maryland -- whose family virtually owned that district's congressional seat -- bit the dust.
Simply put, term limits let voters be lazy. Deciding which office holders deserve to keep their seats is an important civic duty, and, for those who take it seriously, a difficult one. Term limits make it too easy to conclude, "I can't decide whether this council member has done a good job, and I don't know the opponent, so I'll go with the incumbent. If he's no good, he'll be gone in four years anyway."
It may seem contradictory that term limits exist for executive branch leaders. The difference is that far more power is vested in an executive than in any legislative seat. We restrict our county executive, our governor and our president to eight years to prevent mini-dictatorships. Lawmakers pose no such danger. If you don't like what they're doing, vote for someone else. But come Nov. 3, vote AGAINST Questions B and C.