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Term Limit Measure For Board Of Supervisors Qualifies For Ballot

Audio

Aired 12/18/09

A measure to impose term limits on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors has qualified for the June 2010 ballot. What's the motivation for imposing term limits on the supervisors? And, what are the pros and cons of having term limits imposed on that office?

GLORIA PENNER (Host): I had mentioned the supervisors just a few minutes ago. Well, a successful signature gathering drive by labor and other community groups to get term limits for county supervisors places the measure on the ballot this June. And at this point, supervisors can stay in office for a lifetime if they are reelected every four years and that certainly has been the way it’s worked out. Of the five supervisors, Pam Slater-Price and Dianne Jacob were first elected in 1992, 18 years ago. They must’ve been children. And then Ron Roberts has a 16-year tenure, and Bill Horn and Greg Cox, 15 years. So, Ricky, if you add up all those years, that’s a total of 82 years. Now that sure gives them experience. What’s the down side of such long service?

RICKY YOUNG (Government Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, Gloria, I came here immediately from Nashville, Tennessee, the state capital there, and I think there were people in the state legislature there who had served 82 years by themselves, never mind adding up all their terms. And it makes for a different sort of governance. And it makes, honestly, for stronger and more powerful legislators. The concern about term limits is that it creates more powerful special interests because the lobbyists become the ones without the term limits and the ones with the experience and the influence. So, I forget your question but, you know, it’s a…

PENNER: It doesn’t matter.

YOUNG: …multifaceted issue, so…

PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727. You can answer any question you want.

YOUNG: Thank you.

PENNER: And so can our listeners. So make up your own question and call us and let us know what it is. I think that it’s interesting and let me start with you, Vicente, on this. The unions are clearly disturbed that county workers’ jobs were cut. The supervisors kept their budgets and they kept their pay and they kept their favorite programs and funded them. So there we have, you know, these two disparate approaches to governance. Now we have the voters. What’s important to voters?

VICENTE CALDERON (Editor, TijuanaPress.com): Well, here, clearly, is that they see that these guys are not in touch with the needs of the people when they make $143,000-plus a year and everybody else is suffering in the current economic situation. And, as you say, they kept – what’s that amount to – $2.7 million of a budget to do their programs or to attend the needs of the people.

PENNER: Each one of them gets…

CALDERON: Each one of them.

PENNER: …$2.7 million to just give as their discretionary funds to whatever programs they wish to give to.

CALDERON: And what the union says that was an increase from the previous year so, again, when we see that people is cutting in other areas, I guess this is one of the answers of what my previous question in the other topic of what the citizens are doing, and the unions are the one making something for the disenchantment with the politicians.

PENNER: Okay but, Andrew, you know, those opposed to term limits say that, similar to what Ricky was saying, that eight years is not enough to learn the ins and outs of the job and all the institutional information that’s a part of doing a good job. So how valid is that comment?

ANDREW DONOHUE (Editor, VoiceofSanDiego.org): Well, I think this – I mean, there’s – We can debate the pros and cons of term limits here but I think what the underlying current that we’re seeing is that there’s going to be sort of a – there’s going to be a really important moment here with the County Board of Supervisors. Like we’ve talked about, you’ve had the same five Republicans in office together since the mid-nineties and through that time now, you’re starting to see the labor unions gain more power in San Diego, you’re starting to see demographics shift to where the county is more Democratic now; it used to be very conservative. And so when you have those tides changing, you’re going to have things like this, like the term limits come up. You’re going to have Ron Roberts, who’s up for election in 2010, and is probably going to get his first real, you know, contest at the ballot box in his whole time in office. You’ve got Lori Saldana, a State Assemblywoman, that’s going to be running against him, Shelia Jackson, the president of the school board, and then perhaps even Donna Frye. So we’re starting to see some political winds change and we’re starting to see people question the priorities as well as the – At the supervisors level you’re going to have, like we said, the unions, who are questioning how they’re spending their money. Saldana has been starting to talk about the way the county is distributing its money with social services and the priorities they put there, so you’re starting to see a fundamental shift, I think, in how people are viewing the County Board of Supervisors, and it’ll be interesting to see if there is that change, that it moves along with the county as well.

PENNER: All right, let’s see what Ernest in Hillcrest has to say about all this. Ernest, thanks for joining us at the roundtable.

ERNEST (Caller, Hillcrest): Well, thank you. Yes, you know, I think the last speaker said a lot that I agree with, and I think it is – Term limits are not a good idea but they were brought on absolutely because of the abuses of power largely – It’s not just that the last – the same five people have been on the Board of Supervisors, it’s who runs their campaigns, who contributes to their campaigns, which is largely the development and corporate interests in San Diego, and that’s been since the end of World War II. And I love the way they now complain about the power of the unions. The unions are maybe, just maybe, starting to have a little bit of equity with developer and corporate and business interests in San Diego for the first time in basically the city’s history, and suddenly they’re the problem, they’re the ones that are creating all the abuses and it’s just a little ridiculous. So I don’t like term limits but it’s not surprising that they happened and they probably are necessary right now because of the way the structure is set up.

PENNER: So are you going to vote in June?

ERNEST: I absolutely am going to vote in June. I’m going to reluctantly vote for term limits and the irony, of course, is that what it’ll probably do is make elections competitive, get more people in, and then better people that are better able to serve the community will then be termed out. This is why I don’t like term limits but otherwise I don’t see how, short of just basically a natural lifespan, you’re going to get rid of these five people…

PENNER: But…

ERNEST: …who’ve been abusing the system.

PENNER: But just to be clear, and I want to be really clear on this, the way that the measure is written, the supervisors that are now in office can be elected for two more terms.

ERNEST: That’s true.

PENNER: So that means they’re actually going to be in office through 2020 and, you know, whether they choose to – whether they’re going to be termed out or not in 2020 is up to the voters right now. But they’re still going to be with us for a long, long time if they win reelection.

YOUNG: Right, and, Gloria, that’s their argument, is that if people want term limits, the way to do it is to vote someone out of office so the supervisors say there is a term limit right there. Just vote us out of office if you don’t like us.

DONOHUE: Yeah, it’s interesting to…

YOUNG: Well, if I may, I’ve just been – was waiting to…

PENNER: Yes.

YOUNG: I had a – I think what’ll be interesting to watch going forward and what’ll be the determining factor in this is if it stays as a union thing, you know, because the unions got it on the – the union got it on the ballot, if that continues to be associated with this thing, it’s not going to pass. In the past, anti-tax people, pro-medical marijuana people have tried to do this and have failed. The unions actually got it on the ballot but there’s going to need to be some sort of coalition or at least a marketing campaign that sort of hides the union aspect because if you look at, for instance, what happened in Oceanside recently where the unions did not get their way in a recall, I think maybe in San Diego the unions can elect, say, a, you know, a city council with six Democrats on it but when you go across the whole county, I don’t think that that’s going to carry the day.

PENNER: You know, that’s an interesting point and I’d like to pick up on that right after the break but we are going to take the break. The question I’m going to ask, so you can be thinking about it is, are the unions losing or gaining power in the San Diego region? Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.

PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. I’m at the roundtable today with Ricky Young from San Diego Union-Tribune. From TijuanaPress.com, we have Vicente Calderon. And from the VoiceofSanDiego.org, we have Andrew Donohue. We’re talking about the fact that you, the voters, every voter in the San Diego County, can go to the polls on June 8th, I think it is. I think that’s when election day is for the primary. And you can choose whether you want to vote for term limits for the San Diego County supervisors, who at this point have no term limits. And the current supervisors have been in office a very long time because they keep getting reelected. If the voters didn’t vote for them then they wouldn’t be in office this long. So, Vicente, during the break you were telling me that things are a little different in Mexico.

CALDERON: Way different. And earlier this week, they make the Mexican President, Felipe Calderon, introduce a proposal to change the situation in Mexico because in Mexico, it’s against the law that reelection of a politician in any level, not mayor, not congressmen, not a governor, they cannot be reelected directly. You have to wait for several years to be able to repeat on – at any post.

PENNER: What was the reason for that?

CALDERON: Well, this comes after the Mexican revolution when we have a guy that stayed 30 years in power and he became Porfirio Diaz, the dictator.

PENNER: I see.

CALDERON: And that’s why after the election when they write the laws, when they wrote the laws, they include that. That’s a core value of traditional Mexican politics. That’s called ‘sufragio efectivo, no reelección’…

PENNER: Wow.

CALDERON: …is effective vote, no reelection. And the thing is that the President Calderon is now selling as this idea that if you allow a congressman or a mayor to be reelected, it’s a good way to qualify or to tell you if he – you, as a voter, think he’s doing a good job. And it’s interesting that here in San Diego, we are going the other way around…

PENNER: Yes.

CALDERON: …that even when they have the possibility of being reelected directly people apparently, as you said, giving them the high marks.

PENNER: And we…

DONOHUE: We’re having our revolution here.

PENNER: And we really have gone the other way around. Our city council is – has term limits. They can’t be reelected after two terms. The state legislature…

DONOHUE: There’s the legislature, the…

PENNER: …the State Assembly, the Senate. The only ones that I can think of now that don’t have term limits are the supervisors and members of congress and the U.S. Senate.

DONOHUE: And the D.A. and the sheriff as well.

PENNER: The D.A. and sheriff.

DONOHUE: Umm-hmm.

PENNER: Good. Thank you very much. Okay, so we need to move on. I want to hear what our listeners have to say about all this. We’ve sort of been going on without them. But they’re here, and Andrea in Hillcrest, you’re our first up.

ANDREA (Caller, Hillcrest): Oh, thank you for taking my call.

PENNER: Sure.

ANDREA: I just wanted to point out that the language being used by the panel is a little disingenuous. The term ‘the unions’ is – I want to point out that the union is not a monolithic entity and that many people in San Diego who are non-union members, non-union employees, also support the same causes and issues that unions support like fair wages and decent workplaces and a multitude of other issues.

PENNER: Okay.

ANDREA: I’m concerned and not a union member, and support many of the same issues.

PENNER: Okay. Thank you, Andrea. Your phone was kind of hard for us to hear but I think we got the gist of it. Thank you for your comment. Brent in downtown now, Brent, you’re on with the editors.

BRENT (Caller, San Diego): Hi, Gloria. I recently met you at Sante’s Pub (sp) in Del Mar and I’m a member of the Local 30 AFLCIO…

YOUNG: Well…

BRENT: …and we do have the political will and we exercise it. We’re one of the few groups that will come out and say what we’re – what our goals are and who we should elect. That’s my one comment on the unions. I – We hope we’re gaining power. The other thing is, should there be limits? Just look at Supervisor Bill Horn and that should tell you the whole story.

PENNER: Well, do you want to be a little more…?

BRENT: Developer friendly, too, much too.

PENNER: Okay. All right, well thank you very much. Gentlemen, final comment from you, Ricky?

YOUNG: Well, in response to the woman caller, I forget her name, clearly there’s support beyond the union, it’s just the union did the drive here. There’s 11,000 members of the union but more than 120,000 people signed this thing, so, yeah, I didn’t mean to imply it was just the unions but I think that if it gets labeled that way, which I should stop doing, you know, it’s not going to go very far. I wanted to just throw one other thing out there.

PENNER: Sure.

YOUNG: It’s actually not on the ballot yet. The supervisors have to put it there. To some extent, that’s a formality, but I wanted to throw out a free idea for them. In San Bernardino in 2006 when they had a term limits measure on the ballot, it came with a raise for the supervisors, so they got a little something out of it. So if the supervisors wanted to, I suppose they could add that to the measure and link them or something.

PENNER: You’re sure to get a phone call from one of them before the day is out, Ricky. Thank you again. All right, let’s move on.

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