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Peter’s Take: Self Limits Not Term Limits

By Peter Rousselot - ARLNow.com

Thursday - 5/2/2013, 1:00pm  ET

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a Morning Notes story this week, ARLnow linked to a letter to the editor of the Sun Gazette. The writer of the letter suggested enacting mandatory term limits for Arlington County Board members via a term limit ballot proposal.

Although the letter writer did not say so, his proposal would have to be authorized by a new Virginia law. Current Virginia law does not authorize such ballot proposals, although current law does authorize a petition process that could lead to the recall of an individual County Board member by Arlington’s voters.

The ARLnow story generated a huge outpouring of passionate commentary about the pros and cons of mandatory term limits. Many argued vehemently that term limits were the only way to change bad public policies. They attributed those bad policies to the dominance of Arlington’s local government by long-time Democratic incumbents.

Others argued just as passionately that in a democracy, it’s up to the voters to make these decisions. If the majority of Arlington’s voters keep electing Democratic incumbents, then the majority has spoken. For this group, that’s all there is to it.

Most people who participated in this ARLnow debate were convinced they were right, the other side was wrong, and they were not going to change their own opinions.

Regardless of the passion that mandatory term limit supporters are likely to retain, it just ain’t gonna happen. The Virginia legislature — composed entirely of incumbent elected officials — would have to change the law. Don’t invest your emotional energy counting on this possibility.

But, those who cavalierly dismiss complaints about Arlington’s public policy shortcomings, saying voters who want change can just vote out those long-time Democratic incumbents, are underestimating how hard that is to do.

So, what’s the solution?

The solution lies primarily in the hands of my party — the Arlington Democratic Party. There are two parts to it. The first is to make primary challenges more acceptable and more common. The second is to encourage more of our Democratic elected officials to limit voluntarily how long they remain in the same office.

We have a very talented and deep bench among Arlington’s Democrats. These men and women can hit major league pitching. They just need their turn at bat.

Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.