The Prince George’s County Council is putting forward a ballot question in the November election to extend the term limits for County Council members and the County Executive from the current two terms to three terms. This is a terrible idea for a multitude of reasons, and I will be posting about those reasons in the coming days and weeks.
My biggest problem with the term limit extension stems from my well-documented concern regarding the undue influence incumbent politicians and party insiders have on our elections. This whole blog was born out my frustration with the Maryland system of “elections.”
In all democratic systems, incumbent politicians have many built-in advantages. That is why it is not easy to beat an incumbent anywhere. However, in Maryland this incumbency protection is nearly bulletproof thanks to our system of candidate slates and “sample ballot” advertisements. As long as an elected official gets along with his/her fellow incumbents well enough to appear on the joint sample ballot, it is nearly impossible for an incumbent to lose in a primary. And, in a one-party county such as Prince George’s, winning the primary guarantees victory in the general election.
When we have this type of extreme incumbency protection built into the system, term limits are the only avenue for getting new blood and new ideas into the political system. If we extend the term limits and eventually get rid of them (as is the stated objective of those pushing for the term limit extension), our system becomes completely closed and dominated by a handful of long-term incumbents.