Tag Archives: term limits

Did MoCo Term Limits Cause More Competition?

By Adam Pagnucco.

One theory making the rounds in MoCo’s political world is that the passage of term limits for county officials is responsible for creating the high level of candidate competition we are now witnessing.  An opposing point of view is that this competition would have happened anyway due to other factors, such as County Executive Ike Leggett’s retirement and the availability of public campaign financing.  Who’s right and who’s wrong?

In assessing these two views, we asked the candidates themselves which one has more truth.  Following are the perspectives of six people who are actual or potential candidates for seats with term limited incumbents.

Source 1: There is no doubt in my mind that term limits and the resulting open seats are among the most important reasons there are so many people running for council. I have heard that from a number of other candidates.

Source 2: I think there would have been healthy competition without term limits for the same reason that term limits passed. People are ready for some change. Public financing is also a big factor in bringing in new candidates. It would have emboldened challengers even without term limits. Now we have three term limited council members vying for Executive. Room there for new blood, don’t you think?

Source 3: I think Leventhal, Berliner and Elrich would have run anyway. Not sure about Floreen. So I think there would have been a large number of new people anyway. And then public financing probably doubled that number.

Term limits author Robin Ficker credits his successful charter amendment for promoting “fresh ideas.”  Is he right?

Source 4: I believe that Ike would not have sought a 4th term regardless of the term limit issue. This would have freed up seats because of the interest in running for CE. I’m also not confident that Nancy Floreen would have sought an additional term anyway. I’m more in the “competition would have occurred anyway” camp. In my opinion, the number of open seats because of an opening for CE plus retirement, coupled with public finance and the “Trump effect” have created the high level of interest and competition that we will see.

Source 5: You can entertain all sorts of theories and hypotheticals but at the end of the day, more people run when there’s an open seat.  And more seats (probably) opened because of term limits. I mean, might Elrich, Berliner and Leventhal have run for CE anyway? Maybe. But term limits seems to make the current scenario much more likely, and thus draw in more competition because there are more open seats. I also think some “perfect storm” effect of term limits and public financing landing in the same cycle probably enhanced the overall effect on competition. But I think term limits are more significant here than public financing is.

Source 6: Term limits were very helpful in demonstrating the mood of the electorate: an across the board and widespread feeling that they wanted new leadership and a different approach. But I honestly don’t think it made a material change in the number of open seats — just the feeling of those running, thinking about running and the electorate. Unless people think Ike would have run for a 4th term which I don’t but I imagine would have been possible.

Our Take

The key to understanding the impact of term limits is the decision-making of incumbent County Executive Ike Leggett.  After being elected to his second term as Executive in 2010, Leggett said that he was “originally inclined not to run again.”  That stance helped induce former County Executive Doug Duncan and Council Members Phil Andrews, Valerie Ervin and George Leventhal to consider running for Leggett’s seat.  But by November 2012, Leggett was considering another run and he made it official in June 2013.  Ervin (who had commissioned a poll) and Leventhal decided not to challenge Leggett and he went on to defeat Duncan and Andrews in 2014.

This time around, term limits robbed Leggett of the ability to change his mind.  He ruled out another run last October, but by that point it had become clear to nearly everyone that term limits were going to pass.  Once they did, Leventhal and fellow Council Member Marc Elrich were running for Executive in short order and their colleague Roger Berliner soon followed.  Might Leggett have retired anyway?  Sure, but term limits answered that question once and for all.  Term limits also ruled out another council run for at-large incumbent Nancy Floreen.  These open seats plus public financing have created a historic deluge of county-level candidates in MoCo.

Our sense is that term limits alone did not cause all the competition we are seeing.  But they did bring clarity to the political landscape and they accelerated the plans of many candidates.  One of them, at-large candidate Bill Conway, has already claimed to qualify for public matching funds in the county’s public financing system.  Others are on the way.  One more thing seems clear: almost no one is mourning the passage of term limits.  Many Democratic activists seem pleased with the abundance of choices they will have next year.  On to the future.

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Term Limits Vote by Precinct

By Adam Pagnucco.

The precinct results on Montgomery County’s Question B, the charter amendment imposing term limits on the County Executive and County Council, are in.  The message they contain has significant implications for the next election.

First, let’s look at the overall results by type of vote.  Term limits passed overwhelmingly among early voters, election day voters and absentee and provisional voters, though early votes were lower than the other two categories.  As an aside, check out how early votes comprised a third of all votes, reflecting the growing popularity of this type of voting.

Next, let’s examine the distribution of precincts by vote results.  Ninety percent of the county’s 257 precincts passed term limits by at least twenty points.  Only four(!) precincts voted against term limits.  Of those, three were in Takoma Park and the other was in Silver Spring inside the Beltway.

Below are the results for Congressional, state legislative and council districts as well as a cut distinguishing inside vs outside the Beltway.  Again, every single split shows huge support for term limits, with Upcounty areas higher than Downcounty areas.

Now let’s look at results by local area.  Every area in the county passed term limits by at least 20 points except for Takoma Park – the only place that voted against term limits.  Clarksburg, Damascus, Derwood, Laytonsville, North Potomac and Poolesville had support for term limits of 80% or more.

We contrasted the election day results of the term limits votes in 2004 and 2016 to calculate where support for term limits had grown the most.  An important caveat: early voting did not exist in 2004 so that may impact the nature of this presentation.  Overall, support for term limits among election day voters grew from 48% to 72%, a change of 24 points, and most areas had changes in that ballpark.  There are two exceptions.  Takoma Park, where term limits support grew by 17 points, had the least change.  Leisure World, where support grew by 32 points, had the most change.

Below are the results on precinct demographics.  There is very little variation between heavily white, black, Hispanic or Asian precincts, indicating close to uniform support for term limits.

The partisan nature of precincts was an important predictor of term limits voting.  The chart below shows term limit votes by the precinct registration percentages of both major parties.  Precincts that were the least Democratic and the most Republican passed term limits with more than 80% of the vote.  Precincts that were the most Democratic and the least Republican passed term limits with more than 60% of the vote.  The correlation coefficient between these two measures was 0.60, indicating a significant relationship between them.

The big question now is how the term limits vote will affect the 2018 Democratic primary.  Let’s remember that the presidential general electorate and the mid-term Democratic primary electorate are two very different groups of people.  In 2014, Democratic primary voters supported every county-level incumbent running for reelection only to have presidential general voters effectively kick them out two years later.  Nevertheless, there is substantial evidence that many voters who supported term limits will be voting in the 2018 Democratic primary.

  1. At least half of county Democrats voted for term limits. Consider the following.  First, 60% of MoCo presidential general election voters are Democrats.  Second, if all the Republicans and unaffiliated voters supported term limits, that would be 40% of the vote.  However, term limits passed with 70% of the vote.  So that extra 30 points must have come from Democrats and would account for half of them.  If any Republicans or unaffiliated voters did not support term limits, then a slight majority of Democrats would have voted yes.  The point here is that term limits could not have hit 70% support without massive numbers of Democrats favoring them.
  1. Almost all of the Downcounty Democratic strongholds – Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Kensington and Downtown Silver Spring – passed term limits by more than 20 points. Only Takoma Park voted no.  These are the same areas that voted overwhelmingly for Jamie Raskin in the 2016 primary and are responsible for sending him to Congress.  In the 24 precincts where Democrats accounted for 70% or more of registered voters, term limits passed with 62% of the vote.
  1. Nearly two-thirds of regular MoCo Democratic primary voters are age 60 or older. This makes the term limits vote in Leisure World especially noteworthy.  In 2004, 40% of Leisure World voted for term limits, eight points below the county average.  In 2016, 72% of Leisure World voted for term limits, the same as the county average.  That 32-point shift was the biggest of any local area in the county.  The importance of seniors among Democratic voters cannot be overstated and their huge shift in favor of term limits is deeply meaningful.

The term limits vote was the biggest revolt of MoCo voters in at least fifty years.  Everyone running for office in 2018 – incumbents, challengers and open seat candidates alike – must take that into account.

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MoCo Revolts

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a thundering rebuke to Montgomery County’s governing establishment, voters have passed term limits by a 38 point margin with early votes and election day votes counted.  Folks, let’s call this what it is.

A Revolt.

This year will see one of the largest electorates in Montgomery County history.  While the absolute number of voters may be declining in our mid-term elections, it has been steadily rising in presidential general elections.  County residents voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump (by 54 points as of this writing).  But they also voted for term limits despite the fact that most county voters are Democrats and all county elected officials are Democrats.  This year was reminiscent of the 2008 general election, during which MoCo voted for Barack Obama by 45 points but also approved Robin Ficker’s charter amendment restricting property tax hikes by just 5,060 votes.  This demonstrates the capacity of county voters to keep national issues and local issues separate when they so desire.  The big difference between 2008 and now is that the margin of term limits’ passage was so titanic that it’s possible that half of all Democrats voted for it.

The scale of this upheaval is virtually unprecedented.  Sure, County Council incumbents have been defeated here and there and a sitting County Executive was beaten in 1990.  But the voters voted against all the incumbents this year, or at least put an expiration date on their services.  To find something comparable, you would have to go back to 1962, when five of seven Council Members were ejected, and 1966, when six Council Members were defeated.

Former County Council Member Steve Silverman astutely characterized term limits supporters as “a convergence of strange bed-fellows.”  County employees upset about reduced raises, business people unhappy about what they see as an unfriendly business climate, residents opposed to new master plans with more density, Republicans and unaffiliated voters angry about being marginalized, opponents of the county’s liquor monopoly, people upset about the recent Giant Tax Hike and nanny state laws, and those who genuinely regard term limits as facilitating good government came together as they never have before.  As David Lublin wrote, these groups may have had incompatible visions of what county government should be, but all of them believed the way to get there was to get rid of the incumbents.

Term limits opponents made two primary arguments.  First, they described term limits as “an attack on progressive government.”  This had the effect of making the term limits question a referendum on current county elected officials, a perspective actually shared by many supporters.

term-limits-opposition-fundraiser

And second, they tried to make term limits toxic by emphasizing their support by figures like Donald Trump, Robin Ficker and Help Save Maryland.

term-limits-trump-ficker

That strategy didn’t work for two reasons: the opponents were vastly under-funded as they were going uphill and the message itself was not calibrated for a general electorate that is less liberal than Democratic primary voters.  Social media proved to be the weapon of choice for both sides, and in terms of Facebook likes, supporters outgunned opponents by a ratio of 13-1.  Opponents were counting on the Democratic sample ballot and the Apple Ballot, both opposing term limits, to win.  But whereas the sample ballot is often mailed to all county Democrats, this time around it was mailed only to those who had newly registered.  And the teachers union did not supplement its Apple Ballot poll coverage with multiple mass mailings as they do in mid-term years.  Accordingly, the impact of both ballots was blunted.  Opposition organizer Tom Moore made a valiant effort, but this was an unwinnable campaign from the start.

To be fully understood, this year’s vote must be put into the context of recent history.  Since 2008, county voters have decided four major ballot questions and each time they took what was arguably the less progressive position.  Put those four votes together and here is the message from the voters:

We don’t want more property taxes.  We don’t want more government fees.  We don’t want a labor union running the police department.  And even though most of us are Democrats, we are telling the Democrats who run the county government that twelve years in office is long enough.

This is pretty much the opposite of the long-standing posture of the county’s political establishment.  And it’s not just coming from flakes, fanatics and fringe types like Robin Ficker and Help Save Maryland – it’s coming from a majority of county voters.  If there was ever a moment for the governing class to do some soul searching, this is it.

Opponents of term limits may be right about one thing – they may change the names of elected officials, but not the type of them.  Democrats, often very liberal ones, will continue to be elected because of our closed primary system.  But the combined message of the last four ballot questions imposes a hard choice on the elected officials of today and tomorrow.  They can try to balance the interests of various constituencies across the political spectrum at the possible cost of losing the progressive support that influences Democratic primaries.  Or they can stay the course and watch more moderate general election voters pass even more restrictive ballot questions, including perhaps the ultimate bane of progressivism – a hard tax cap.

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On Term Limits

This year’s term limits vote is the hot local topic of debate in Montgomery County. Or it would be, if either the pro or anti-term limits campaigns had any money to broadcast their message. Voters will largely have to decide for themselves whether they want term limits for the County Executive and County Council.

Political scientists tend to oppose term limits as anti-democratic. The exception is that presidential term limits often seen as preventing an unhealthy concentration of power. In emerging democracies, presidential term limits are increasingly seen as a good means to promote the rotation of power.

So why are so many Montgomery County voters ready to approve term limits that anti-democratically limit their own rights to reelect people to public office?

The Selectorate

A key reason is that many people don’t feel that they have much say over their government. This isn’t just hot air. Unless you vote in the critical Democratic primary that effectively decides elections for all partisan offices, you don’t.

Consider that the Census estimated Montgomery’s voting-age population at 788,043. (Note: this figure includes non-citizens, so it is an  inflated estimate of the potential voters.) Among the eligible population, 630,355 were registered voters including 354,078 registered Democrats at the time of the 2014 primary elections.

Only 88,007 people participated in the hotly contested Democratic primary for County Executive. That’s just 11% of the voting-age population, 14% of registered votes, and 25% of registered Democrats. It’s also just 33% of 2014 general election voters, and 19% of 2012 general election voters.

Moreover, the Democratic primary selectorate is skewed heavily toward the more Democratic areas of the County. It’s no accident that so many councilmembers live very close together in the southeastern corner of the County–and most people never cast a vote in the key election to choose them.

Beyond the overwhelming strength of the Democrats, Republicans offer very weak alternatives. As a result, the general election, held in the lower turnout midterm election, feels more like a kabuki ritual even if the outcome accurately ratifies the preference of the voters for Democratic over Republican nominees.

The Fantasy

The great advantage of term limits compared to the status quo is that every voter can imagine that the new Council will be more responsive to whatever their political bent–even though some of the major dreams advocated are contradictory.

Robin Ficker touts lower taxes as County unions envision a Council  willing to raise their pay higher. Civic associations imagine a Council less in thrall to developers while Chamber dreams of a more business friendly Council.

These claims cannot all be true but that doesn’t prevent voters from comparing their fantasy government to the much less glamorous reality. As the same people will choose new councilmembers by the same process, change may be more elusive than imagined.

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Term Limits Opposition in Shambles

By Adam Pagnucco.

With the challenge to Robin Ficker’s petition signatures having failed in court, the opposition to term limits has hit a new low.  Opponents have less than three weeks left and over 400,000 prospective general election voters to reach.  Tick tock says the clock.

How do you win on term limits?  Here’s a theory: voters will vote in accordance with their perceived self-interest.  Whoever wishes to sway them must address their self-interest and take account of how they see it.  Failure to do so means losing the argument.

So far, the opponents’ arguments against term limits seem to be that they are unfair to elected officials, that Robin Ficker is a baaaaad man (he is), that county Republicans favor them, that nativist extremists were involved in gathering petition signatures (they were), that Nancy Navarro would be denied three full terms under Ficker’s language, that Donald Trump favors term limits and that term limits supporters are like Brexit supporters.

Well, OK.  But what do any of these arguments have to do with the voters’ self-interest?

And then this happened.

“Oh wait a minute.  Never mind, voters.  Forget about what we told you.  We are going to court so you won’t be able to vote!  What’s that?  You will be voting after all?  Oh.  Well, remember what we were saying…?”

Adding to the above is that most prominent opponents of term limits have a personal self-interest in the issue.  Several incumbent Council Members have spoken publicly against them.  Tom Moore, the opponents’ organizer, is a former Rockville City Council Member who ran for County Council in 2014 and might do so again.  Almost all of the scanty funding for the anti-term limits committee came from Council Members, their staff, their family and a non-profit receiving county money.  Are there any non-politicians (aside from Charter Review Commission Chair Paul Bessel) who are willing to work to defeat term limits?

Ficker, on the other hand, does have a narrative aimed at voters.  His sales pitch is that, according to him, current elected officials are “self-serving” by awarding themselves large salary increases and voting for big tax hikes filled with goodies for interest groups that help them get reelected.  The costs of all this are passed on to taxpayers.  Ficker proposes breaking this cycle by instituting term limits and getting new people elected with “fresh ideas.”  Put aside for a moment that there are numerous problems with his theory, including that there is already substantial competition in county elections and that the 2014 public financing law could promote even more competition.  Ficker is speaking directly to the pocketbook interests of voters while the other side is currently not.

Right now, all the momentum is with term limits supporters as many factors are working in their favor – especially the council’s Giant Tax Hike.  Opponents are going uphill, with a tremendous amount of work to do and very little time.  At this point in the 2000 term limits battle, legendary Duncan operative Jerry “Darth Vader” Pasternak had put together a massive coalition to fight Ficker, and the opponents ultimately won by just eight points.  In contrast, little of this work appears to have been done this time around. The opponents’ Facebook page has just 69 likes (FAR less than the 4,699 likes on Ficker’s page) and there is no money for a mail budget.  The opponents are relying on the Apple Ballot, the Democratic sample ballot and prayer.  Compare this to the 2000 effort, during which Darth Pasternak’s Empire did at least three mailings plus 130,000 robocalls.

Paul Bessel’s scholarly dissertation on term limits is helpful, but is anyone other than a handful of insomniac college professors going to read it?  Opponents need a direct, relevant message.  Something like this:

Come on, voters!  Is it really in your self-interest to disenfranchise yourselves?  Do you want to prevent yourselves from reelecting an official whom you believe is doing a good job?  Do you benefit from a government that is run by bureaucrats and lobbyists?  Do you really think a County Council jam-packed with lame ducks is going to act on your behalf?  What exactly are YOU getting out of all this?

There’s nothing here about Ficker, Help Save Maryland, Trump or Brexit.  It’s about the voters, stupid!  Just like it’s supposed to be.

Term limits opponents need message, resources and scale – and they need those things yesterday.  Because at this moment, Ficker is on pace to win, perhaps by double digits.

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Council Members Circle the Wagons on Term Limits

By Adam Pagnucco.

The No on B Committee, the ballot question committee opposing Montgomery County term limits, has filed its first campaign finance report with the State Board of Elections.  There are no surprises here: most of the contributions it has raised have come from incumbent members of the Montgomery County Council.

The committee reported raising $9,125 through October 9.  Of that amount, $6,000 (66%) has come from the campaign accounts of Council Members.  George Leventhal  was the lead contributor, donating $1,500.  Roger Berliner, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer contributed $1,000 each while Marc Elrich contributed $500.  Other contributions of note came from George Leventhal’s father, Carl ($500), Marc Elrich’s Chief of Staff, Dale Tibbitts ($500) and Casa de Maryland ($1,000).  In total, contributions from Council Members and their staff accounted for 72% of money raised by the committee.

After paying attorney Jonathan Shurberg $5,000 for his work on the unsuccessful court case to get term limits thrown off the ballot, and paying other minor expenses, the committee reported a final balance of $4,024.49.

Another committee formed to support term limits, Voters for Montgomery County Term Limits, reported raising $2,890 and finishing with $2,683.27 in the bank.  Developer Charles K. Nulsen III contributed $1,000.  There have been rumors of developer support for term limits, which would be interesting considering that the anti-development Montgomery County Civic Federation also supports term limits.  But Nulsen’s lone contribution signals that so far the real estate community is not fully engaged.

In 2012, 460,885 MoCo residents voted in the general election.  A similar number could be voting this year.  What’s clear is that neither committee has the resources to get its message out to the electorate.  Since many underlying factors favor the passage of term limits, the failure of both sides to raise money is a net benefit for supporters.

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Term Limits Will Be on the Ballot

Term limits for the Montgomery County Council will be on the ballot next month. After losing in the Montgomery County Circuit Court, the No on B team appealed to the state’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals. Yesterday, the Court denied certiorari in Moore v. Montgomery County Board of Elections, meaning that they decided not to even hear the appeal.

The decision surprised the No on B team, as they believed that they had strong arguments. Moreover, the circuit court judge had been overturned twice before on cases involving major ballot initiatives. Attached is the brief written for No on B by Jonathan Shurberg, so you can assess the strength of the argument and whether the Court of Appeals made the right call.

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