- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Isaac Gourdine, who has represented the communities around Fort Washington, Md., on the Prince George's County Council since 1994, is barred by law from serving beyond 2002. But Mr. Gourdine isn't giving up the $60,000-a-year part-time job without a fight: He's urging voters and fellow council members to back a proposed ballot initiative this fall that would rescind term limits.

"I've never been in favor of term limits. I don't think it's good for the county," said Mr. Gourdine, a Democrat. "They are artificial limits … it circumvents the democratic process."

Mr. Gourdine said he took stewardship of the anti-term-limits initiative at the behest of voters who were upset at seeing their elected representatives forced from office prematurely.

"If they are happy with somebody they want to keep, they should [be able to keep him]," said Mr. Gourdine, who holds the District 8 seat.

Council Chairman Dorothy F. Bailey, a Democrat representing District 7, said she expects the proposal to be placed on the council's agenda within the next two weeks. If the council approves Mr. Gourdine's motion, the issue will be put to voters in November.

A Prince George's County activist who led the battle in the 1990s to adopt term limits said she is worried that Mr. Gourdine is trying to pull a fast one on the county.

"It will bypass the voters," said Judy Robinson. "Mr. Gourdine is trying to save his job."

In 1992, Mrs. Robinson helped collect the more than 18,000 signatures that put the term limits measure before county voters. The law passed 51 percent to 49 percent.

As a council member, Mr. Gourdine only has to have his proposal approved by the council for it to be on the ballot.

That, Mrs. Robinson said, is not fair to the voters who backed the measure eight years ago. She said the fact that the proposal could be rushed to the ballot only six months before the election means some voters may be taken by surprise.

Mrs. Robinson said she still believes term limits are an effective way to fight corruption in local politics.

But some Prince George's County movers and shakers say the term limits are counterproductive. One former council member ousted under term limits, Stephen Del Giudace, said he felt he had more to offer.

"I'd be lying if I told you it didn't disturb me that I was thrown out of office," said Mr. Del Giudace, a Democrat who represented District 2. "I liked serving."

"There are some who don't like it, and the percentages show it," he said, referring to the measure's 2 percentage point margin of victory in 1992.

The man who took over Mr. Del Giudace's spot Peter Shapiro said he would have supported Mr. Del Giudace if he had been allowed to run again.

Mr. Shapiro, a Democrat, said the institutional knowledge that is lost when a member is kicked out of office is a detriment especially to those he or she represents.

Republican District 4 council member Audrey E. Scott said she strongly disagrees with those people, especially Mr. Gourdine, who feel that term limits are "anti-democratic."

"Personally, I think it's self-serving," Ms. Scott said. "If it's going to be on the ballot, it should be put on there by the voters."

Unless there has been a grass-roots effort by residents to repeal term limits, a legislator shouldn't even think about introducing such a proposal, she said.

Paul Jacob, director of the Washington-based U.S. Term Limits, a group that advocates term limits, said the way Mr. Gourdine is trying to put the measure on the ballot undermines the political process.

"Politicians ought to show there's some support from the public," Mr. Jacob said. "There have been countless attempts across the country to undo term limits."

According to John K. White , professor of politics at Catholic University in the District, the groundswell of support that once existed for term limits isn't there anymore. And the debate going on in Prince George's County showcases how term limits as an issue may have lost their luster.

"There is a political class that some people are trying to eliminate. I really think the notion of term limits was to strike a blow to [that] class," Mr. White said.

Since the early 1990s, when the push for term limits was in full bloom, the economy has gotten better and people are more satisfied with government, he said.

"I think knee-jerk is the right word," Mr. White said when describing how term limits were imposed on legislators as well as those holding executive positions.

Mr. White noted, too, that the GOP-led Congress in 1994 never approved the measure to implement term limits for members of the House of Representatives, even though it was listed as a high priority in their own "Contract With America."

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