- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2000

In 1994, voters in the District of Columbia approved Initiative 49. What the initiative did, or so voters thought, was establish term limits for the mayor, chairman of the D.C. Council and its 12 members and members of the Board of Education. The initiative, which won 62 percent of the vote, limited each officeholder to two consecutive four-year terms. Or, so voters thought. There seems to be some question concerning the legality of the initiative.

"It's not clear whether they are legal," council member Jack Evans, a Democrat, told this page last week. He suggested term limits may violate the home-rule charter and said he expects the council to visit the issue during its next session.

The terms of the city's top elected officials were originally established in the D.C. Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act of 1973, which also spells out the District's so-called home-rule charter. Title IV of the act discusses the council and the mayor, among other things, and says that the terms for each officeholder shall be four years. While the act mandates staggered terms for the first elections held after the act was ratified in 1974, it is mute on the number of terms for those officeholders.

Nonetheless, opponents of term limits now argue that the District does not need them. Mr. Evans, for one, cites the turnover on the council. "Personally, I don't like term limits," Mr. Evans said. "Every election since 1980 an incumbent has been defeated." The most recent lawmaker is Charlene Drew Jarvis, who served more than 20 years and was roundly defeated in the September Democratic primary. Mr. Evans, who joined the council in 1991, will replace her as vice chairman in January. "If term limits stay in effect," he said, "we could lose the entire council in a two-year period."

To the contrary, Initiative 49 merely limits the terms of certain elected officials elected since 1994 to two consecutive terms and that's not a bad thing either.

Politicians who remain in office too long often think of themselves and the office they hold as one in the same. Consider, if you will, just a few of the advantages of incumbency: Entrenched politicians campaign full time under the guise of "constituent services," hold outside jobs while their "free" political staffs do the heavy legislative lifting, and they get breaks ordinary working stiffs do not, including free postage and cushy salaries. They also get to be hypocrites and overturn voter-initiated ballot questions.

Initiative 49, the District's term-limits law, was initiated by voters and for voters, and if Mr. Evans or any of his colleagues view that as a personal indictment, that's unfortunate. Actually, the initiative wasn't about any individual politician not even Marion Barry, who many deemed "Mayor for Life."

Term limits are not about politicians at all. They are about voter choice, free market, democracy, limited government, the rights of voters and their wherewithal to establish elections as political contests. As lawmakers, Mr. Evans and his colleagues are obligated to ensure there are no conflicts with Initiative 49 or any other initiative or referendum for that matter. By the same turn, lawmakers would be irresponsible to overrule the will of the voters just to save their own political hides.

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