WeHo Term Limit Skeptic
August 10, 2012 (West Hollywood)
By: Christopher Nikhil Bowen
Since 2001, the winning candidate in West Hollywood City Council races have garnered no less than 43% of the popular vote. On average, they receive 52.75% of the votes. Generally, losing candidates are mired in the single digit percentages, with one or two losing candidates being outliers collecting more votes than the rest of the challengers. The man most frustrated by this system has clearly been former West Hollywood Councilman Steve Martin. He has been foiled by the system, not once, not twice, but THREE times since 2001. This must be incredibly frustrating because there are so few voters to fight for in this city. Since 2001, the voter turnout has been roughly 5,112 voters (21% of eligible voters). Honorable former councilmember Martin ran unsuccessfully in 2003 by 343 votes, just behind Councilmember Guarriello. He barely lost again in 2007 by 333 votes, just behind Councilmember Guarriello. It happened yet again in 2011, where he lost to Councilmember Heilman by 306 votes. It looks like Mr. Martin and others who want to hold council positions have run into the ‘power of incumbency.’ However, it also seems like many who live in West Hollywood do not feel like they are being under-represented or misrepresented in City Council, for if they did, they would vote against the members and speak out loudly against them. I hear the argument that the current cohort of council members have too much power, and have served for too many years, but in my opinion, it is for the voters to decide in each election, not a legal limit.
If anyone would know about the advantages of sitting Councilmembers, it would be former member of the council, Steve Martin, who served for 9 years with honor and distinction. However, now he has endorsed a movement to create term limits in the City of West Hollywood. We should debate the merits of the proposal separately, but first I want to take a closer look at who is behind the movement.
Coverage for the term limits movement has been spotty, and since this town is so small, local media sources have a large impact on voter opinion. It so happens that WeHo News endorsed Steve Martin for City Council in 2011 (according to his website), and they continue to cover Councilmember Martin in a positive light. I have not yet made up my mind about term limits in West Hollywood, but I am certainly skeptical of them, and even more skeptical of the motives of the early endorsers of the effort.
If voters were tired of their elected officials, they would vote them out. This is a tiny city, and there are not millions of dollars being poured into this area from out-of-state organizations or a whole lot of outside tampering. On the WeHoTermLimits website, it claims that the council needs “fresh faces and new visions which support the existing residents and local businesses.” If this is the case, then let the electoral process run its course. We should not create laws to ban legislators if they are favored by the people. It seems like the proponents of the term limit initiative have a political agenda, a vision for West Hollywood that the current council may not share. If this is the case, then the folks that dislike the council should run for a position, rather than trying to disqualify their opposition with legislation to disqualify them. Political battles can be won on technicalities, but wouldn’t those with this vision of the city’s “cores values” be won in the public square of ideas, and eventual elections? I may be a naive student of politics, but this is how I was taught.
This is no tyranny, we have a weak executive branch in city government, the mayor is a revolving post for goodness sakes! This isn’t the executive branch at a federal level, where they contain massive powers, or even as big as state government powers. It is not fair to compare West Hollywood city council to the United States Presidency, to the California State Senate or Assembly, or even to much larger city councils like New York or Los Angeles. We are West Hollywood, and we certainly don’t let others dictate how we should do things. I don’t know why we would start now.