Republican activist Robin Ficker on Monday presented Montgomery County with what he said are 18,000 signatures in support of placing a term-limits measure on the November ballot.
The signatures, spread over 3,600 pages of petitions packed in a box that once held bananas, favor limiting county council members and the county executive to three consecutive terms.
Their delivery to County Executive Isiah Leggett’s office starts the official clock for determining whether the question goes on the ballot. The county Board of Elections has 20 days to verify that those who signed are registered voters. If at least 10,000 signatures are valid, opponents will have 10 days to request a review in circuit court.
If passed by voters, five of the all-Democratic council’s nine seats would change hands after the 2018 elections. Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) and Marc Elrich (D-At Large), are each serving a third term; Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) and George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), are in their fourth.
Because Ficker’s proposed amendment defines “term” as either a full or partial term, a fifth council member, Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County) would also be affected. She was first elected in May 2009 to fill the unexpired term of the late Don Praisner and then elected to two full terms in 2010 and 2014. Ficker was one of Navarro’s 2009 opponents.
Leggett (D), serving his third term, would also be barred from seeking another term, although he is unlikely to run again.
Opponents contend that elections are the best vehicle for limiting tenure in office. Ficker, who led two unsuccessful campaigns in 2000 and 2004 to impose term limits, called the incumbents “self-serving tax increase specialists” who need to be unseated. He cited the 8.7 percent property tax increase approved by the council this spring as one of several spending decisions that justified their removal.
Ficker also said that by his count, 44 percent of the signatures came from registered Democrats.
The council added a new twist to the term-limits debate last week before adjourning for the summer. It voted to place on the ballot a proposed charter amendment specifying that a “partial term” must be at least two years. Under such language, Navarro could run again in 2018.
Council President Floreen said Monday that the council was only trying to “add clarity” to the definition of a partial term.
“It was appropriate to be clear on what partial meant,” said Floreen, adding that under Ficker’s formulation, someone who served a single day of a third term would be barred from running again.
Ficker said it was an attempt by the council to confuse voters and protect one of their own.
“They’re trying to create the Nancy Navarro special exception,” said Ficker, who denied that it was intended as payback for his 2009 defeat.
Ficker asserted that he included similar language in his 2000 and 2004 proposed amendments, long before he ran against Navarro or even knew who she was.
But a review of the two ballot questions shows no such provisions.
Navarro, the first Hispanic woman to serve on the council, said Monday that Ficker’s intent was “pretty clear.”
“If it passes, everybody gets three terms, but not the Latina woman,” Navarro said.
During Ficker’s presentation of the signatures Monday, a reporter for the Montgomery Sentinel asked whether Ficker would agree to debate Democratic activist Paul Bessel, an opponent of term limits, in an event sponsored by the paper.
Ficker said he would have to check his calendar.
Navarro said she was open to a debate with Ficker at any time.
“I’ll be happy to express my take any time at any place,” she said.