A former Rockville City Council member and Democratic activist says he will lead an effort to defeat a term-limits charter amendment that is expected to be on the Montgomery County ballot in November.
Tom Moore, who served two terms on the Rockville council, said he will organize a political committee to raise funds and campaign against a measure that would limit County Council members and the county executive to three consecutive terms in office.
“It’s bad policy, a bad idea,” said Moore, who contends that such limits would only increase the influence of lobbyists and unelected county staffers.
“When I talk to the people about their government, no one says, ‘I wish the lobbyists and staff were more in charge,’ ” he said.
Republican lawyer Robin Ficker is spearheading a drive to collect the 10,000 signatures of registered voters required to place the term-limits proposal on the 2016 ballot. Ficker said Tuesday that he plans to submit about 15,000 signatures to county officials by the Aug. 8 deadline.
If term limits were approved, five of the County Council’s nine seats would change hands after the 2018 elections. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), currently serving his third term, would also be forced out of office, although that issue may be moot because he is unlikely to seek a fourth term, even without term limits.
Ficker, a veteran of numerous charter amendment campaigns — including a successful 2008 initiative requiring a council supermajority for major property tax increases — was dismissive of Moore’s efforts.
“I think Moore is less in this case,” he quipped. “What’s he ever done? Where’s he ever been successful?” Ficker has run for local, state and federal offices at least nine times since 1972, winning a single term in the House of Delegates in 1978.
Moore, who lost a 2014 County Council race, expressed confidence that he could put together an effective anti-term-limits coalition with help from labor and other elements of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. He said the proposed amendment is Ficker’s way of “overturning election results and ending the careers of a lot of successful public servants.”
There are signs of other opposition beginning to form. Paul Bessel, a Montgomery lawyer and chair of the county’s Charter Review Commission, has challenged Ficker to a debate in the fall.
Ficker said he will accept.
The commission is a bipartisan body appointed by the council to report on possible changes to the charter every other year. In its most recent report, released last month, the commission did not endorse term limits but included the topic on a list of “potential areas of study.”
Bessel, a Democrat, said he would be debating Ficker strictly as a private citizen.
The five council members who would be immediately affected by term limits are: Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) and Marc Elrich (D-At Large), each serving a third term; Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) and George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), currently serving fourth terms; and council member Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County), first elected in May 2009 to fill the unexpired term of the late council member Don Praisner and then elected to two full terms.
Seven Maryland counties, including Prince George’s and Anne Arundel, have some form of term limits for elected officials. In addition, the governor can serve no more than two terms in office.
Ficker tried in 2000 and 2004 to limit council members and the executive to two consecutive terms.
While opponents are trying to paint the amendment as a Republican measure, he said the signatures he has collected show significant Democratic support — a reflection of discontent, he said, over the recent property tax increase. He did not offer specific numbers.
The county Board of Elections has 20 days to verify the names after they are submitted. If at least 10,000 are found to be valid, opponents will then have 10 days to request a review in circuit court.
If the court affirms the signatures, the measure will be placed on the ballot.