When his presidential advisors and former fellow revolutionaries tried to convince George Washington to run for a third term as president, Washington refused. Not only did America’s founding father want to return to a quieter life at Mount Vernon, Washington also understood the need for what was then called “rotation in office” if the new American republic was to succeed.
For 144 years thereafter, Washington’s successors as president agreed. And when Franklin D. Roosevelt broke that no third-term tradition in 1940, it was only 11 years later that the Congress and the states wrote Washington’s no third-term tradition into law as the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Today, term limits on public office holding are sweeping the country. In this decade alone, 20 states, including California, have placed term limits on governors and state legislators. Career office holders are finally being forced out, either to run for another public office or to retire from public life.
On the municipal level, legally enacted term limits were started in Indiana in 1851. As of 1995, 2,890 local governments in America have enacted term limits, including New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco and San Diego. Smaller California cities have enacted term limits as well, including Arcada, Cypress, Dana Point, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Redondo Beach and Seal Beach.
In 1995, a new California law was approved by the state legislature and signed by the governor allowing General Law cities such as Malibu to place term limits on their city council. In 1992, the Malibu City Council voted to support such legislation. And I have supported a two-term limit on Malibu City Councilmembers in both of my campaigns for council.
The time has come to let Malibu voters decide if they want term limits on their city councilmembers. State law now allows us to put the question directly to the people. State law also prevents term limits from being applied retroactively. That is why I’m urging my colleagues, regardless of their current tenure in office, to place the question before the voters in the April 2000 City Council election.
The power of incumbency has grown even stronger since George Washington’s time, with both mass media and fund-raising advantages. Term limits “level the playing field” every few years and let new blood and new ideas into public office. It’s actually an old idea whose time has come around again.