- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

Supporters vowed to continue fighting for term limits for D.C. elected officials after the D.C. Council rescinded a law approved by voters in a referendum seven years ago.
The councils action marks the first time in the nation that term limits passed by referendum have been overturned by legislative action and leaves some residents and politicians upset.
"I think its anti-democratic and undermines our efforts to secure home rule," said William P. Lightfoot, former at-large council member who criticized the vote.
"If our local elected officials do not respect our right to vote, then how can we expect anyone else to?" Mr. Lightfoot asked.
The Consecutive Term Limitation Amendment Act, passed the council by a 9-4 vote, killing a law created by the November 1994 referendum in which 62 percent of D.C. voters in all eight wards approved term limits.
Tuesdays vote makes the legislation virtually veto proof as it takes nine votes to override a veto by Mayor Anthony A. Williams.
But some in the council who support term limits believe that the mayor should veto the act anyway, allowing them to lobby and possibly turn one of the votes to their side, said council member Adrian Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat and one of the four dissenting votes.
"I voted to keep the term limits in place … . I didnt think the council should have rescinded them without taking it back to the people first," Mr. Fenty said.
One of the major arguments for rescinding term limits was that the law was unconstitutional because it altered the citys home-rule charter, which can only be done by Congress.
Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, who introduced the legislation to repeal term limits on Jan. 23, saw the issue as a problem that would fester if not taken care of now.
Mr. Evans is one of three council members who would be facing their last term if the council had not acted, said spokesman John Ralls, adding that this in no way affected the decision to draft and introduce legislation. The others facing term limits were Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat, and Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, Mr. Ralls said.
"We originally drafted the legislation because we were notified by the D.C. general counsel that the referendum and the following legislation were unconstitutional," he said.
Mr. Ralls challenged the validity of the term limits referendum because of the turbulent situation in the city at the time it was passed.
"If you look at 1994, the city was in the throes of financial ruin, Marion Barry was running for a third term, and we were [facing] a congressional takeover," he said, adding that the 1994 election had one of the lowest voter turnouts on record.
"I think the people were trying to send a message, and rightfully so. But now we are fiscally strong and the majority of people support the council and the mayor."
At-large council member Phil Mendelson, Democrat, who voted to rescind term limits, was in full support of Mr. Evans for another reason.
"Term limits uses a calendar to decide the qualifications of a candidate … . To say that [our amendment] is anti-democratic is misleading," he said. However, Mr. Mendelson told The Washington Times in an interview yesterday that he had supported an amendment for a second referendum to decide the issue, "but it was voted down."
Mr. Fenty believes the issue of unconstitutionality swings both ways. "The council is not in the position of interpreting law. We only create them," he said.
"If it was unconstitutional to pass the law because of the home-rule charter change, then it is equally unconstitutional for the council to rescind the law because they have again altered the charter without congressional approval."
Advisory neighborhood commissioners were divided on the issue.
Gregory J. Ferrell, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 6, called the councils motives "disingenuous at the very best."
"I think the idea of how the term limits were repealed violates the principle that the government should be responsible to the people. These people on the council are using their position for their own gain. They dont care about the people," he said.
Laurence Guyot, a Ward 1 ANC, lobbied the council to overturn term limits, arguing the law infringed on the right to vote. "Im glad that the City Council had the guts to use the legal foundation they had to restore the strength of our votes," he said.
But Dorothy Brizill, executive director of D.C. Watch, a private organization whose goal is to give the public oversight of the D.C. government, said, "…I think that there will be some payback for members who voted in favor of this bill."
She said it would take a great deal of time and effort for term-limits backers to get enough signatures citywide and in each ward to force a second referendum. "We are still, however, exploring the option of campaigning for a second referendum."

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