After months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) is publicly appealing to voters to loosen term-limit restrictions by voting for Question J on the November ballot.
Baker made his pitch Tuesday in an e-mail from his campaign, urging county voters to “not squander our opportunity to make” Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) — a man he has known for 20 years — the next state governor.
The county executive pivoted from praising Brown to what he called a second “critical” decision: A ballot referendum asking for voter approval to allow the executive and County Council to serve three instead of the current two terms in office.
“We are the only jurisdiction in the region that limits the terms of its elected officials. This is significant,” the message said. “Many of the differences we see between our County and other jurisdictions . . . are tied to the fact that the leaders of other jurisdictions have spent years building influence in the region.”
The choices voters make will influence the county’s future, Baker said.
Brown, who began his political career as a delegate in Prince George’s, is locked in a surprisingly tight battle with Republican Larry Hogan for the governorship.
With voter turnout among African Americans expected around 25 percent, Brown has solicited the help of big names, including President Obama, to encourage black voters — a high concentration of whom live in the county — to turn out.
Their votes could give Brown a needed edge over his opponent. A win for him could pay off for Prince George’s in garnering state support for economic development, school construction money and transportation needs, officials have said.
If Brown’s election is one key to Prince George’s progress, then extending term limits is the other, according to Baker, who said term limits have been a disadvantage since 1992.
But instead of taking the debate to voters, Baker and the Council have remained largely silent on the issue. Advocating for the ballot referendum looks terrible for officials who would benefit directly from voter approval of the question.
Ask any current Council member keeping their seat or those poised to take office and they all agree the question of term limits should be up to voters. But they will not elucidate their personal opinions on the matter publicly.
Baker swayed the Democratic Central Committee, which is responsible for distributing the party’s general election sample ballot, to endorse — something they haven’t done in years — a “yes” vote on Question J.
The controversy divided the committee and some members attempted to block the vote. But their efforts were fruitless.
The mailers reached nearly 430,000 Prince George’s homes last week, listing the Democratic Party’s suggested candidates and the ballot question letters, A through J, with large red checks running down the “Yes” column.
But there was no text explaining the content of each referendum item. Voters will have to refer to the official state sample ballot to learn more about each question.
“This is why your vote is so important,” Baker’s message ended.