Council Member Calls Term Limit Referendum ‘A Dumb, Unnecessary Protest Gesture’

George Leventhal, who would be affected if measure passes by popular vote, compared effort to Brexit


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Volunteer Gail Weiss helped collect signatures Saturday in Bethesda for a referendum that if passed would impose term limits on county elected officials

Montgomery County GOP/Facebook

As supporters of term limits for Montgomery County elected officials hit the corner of Bethesda and Woodmont avenues Saturday, one of the County Council members who would be affected if the measure passes labeled the effort “a dumb, unnecessary protest gesture” and compared it to last week’s “Brexit” vote.

“Listening to Brits regret their vote for Brexit makes me think of Ficker’s MoCo term limits question: a dumb, unnecessary protest gesture,” Leventhal tweeted Saturday afternoon.

“Ficker” refers to Robin Ficker, the county resident and longtime Republican activist who once again is leading a petition drive to get the term limit question on the November ballot. If the question goeson the ballot and a majority of Montgomery County voters vote in favor of term limits, the county executive and County Council members would be restricted to three consecutive terms.

That would mean County Executive Ike Leggett, plus Leventhal and fellow council members Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and Nancy Floreen couldn’t run again for their current positions in 2018. The Washington Post reported last month it would also mean council member Nancy Navarro, first elected in 2009 to fill the unexpired term of late council member Don Praisner, couldn’t run again for the council in 2018. Navarro won two full four-year terms in 2010 and 2014.

Leggett is expected to retire at the end of his current term and at least some of the council members who would be subjected to term limits are rumored to be looking at a run for county executive regardless of the outcome of a term limit referendum. Still, a successful referendum would result in a rare amount of council turnover, opening up five of nine seats.

Via Twitter, a screeshot of Leventhal's tweets over the weekend concerning Robin Ficker's term limit referendum

County officials and others involved in county politics have said privately they expect a referendum would pass thanks in part to the anti-establishment mood permeating the national political scene. Some also believe the council’s approval last month of an 8.7 percent property tax increase, the first time since 2009 the council raised property taxes above the inflation-based county charter limit, would encourage voters to pass term limits if given the opportunity.

On Saturday afternoon, Republican activist Brad Botwin and six other volunteers combed the corner in front of the Bethesda Row Barnes & Noble for people to sign the term limit petition. They wore bright green shirts reading “Montgomery County NEEDS TERM LIMITS! Ask Me Why!”

Botwin said the volunteers collected about 75 signatures over three hours. Botwin said some were upset with the recently passed Westbard Sector Plan, which changed that Bethesda area’s zoning in a highly controversial master plan rewrite likely to lead to mixed-use redevelopment.

He said others were unhappy with the property tax increase, which will go into effect in the fiscal year that begins Friday, and the county’s unique and much-criticized system for controlling the sale of alcohol.

“Just in general, they’re tired of these people. They don’t listen to the citizens anymore, so it’s kind of this underlying anger,” Botwin said. “A good number of people knew about [the term limit referendum]. They were glad when they saw our lovely shirts.”

In 2000 and 2004, Ficker collected enough verified signatures to get the term limit question on the ballot. Forty-six percent voted in favor of term limits in 2000 and 48.6 percent voted in favor in 2004, meaning term limits were narrowly defeated both times.

In 2010, most of the signatures on Ficker’s term limit petition were thrown out by Montgomery County thanks to a state court ruling that heightened the verification requirements for signatures on ballot question petitions. Botwin said that this time around, signature collectors “are like hawks” watching people fill in their full names with middle initials, ZIP codes and dates of birth and making sure all the writing is legible. Botwin echoed Ficker’s belief that the group has the required 10,000 verifiable signatures to get the measure on the ballot. The signatures must be verified by September to get on the ballot.

“This will be on the ballot,” Botwin said. “Will it pass? We’re just going to keep pushing.”

Leventhal on Saturday tweeted that Ficker, who lost in April’s Republican District 6 congressional primary and is a frequent candidate for office, “ran countless losing campaigns” and “wants to block councilmembers from running more than 3 winning campaigns.”

He later tied Ficker to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, whom Ficker supports, and gave one last parting shot, tweeting that Ficker is a “perennial loser.”

Botwin said he plans to come back to collect more signatures in Bethesda sometime soon.

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