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The first in a series of essays from No Term Limits in La Mesa to examine the underlying assumptions and principles around term limits, whether they are “needed” or work as claimed, and just what side effects they may bring with  them.

By No Term Limits in La Mesa

September 24, 2014 (La Mesa)--Proponents of term limits claim that term limits are needed because incumbent advantage makes it impossible for a challenger to win. But is this assumption really the case?

It’s no secret that many refer to our hometown as Mayberry, usually with pride. Chances are you’ve run into members of our City Council at a grocery store, sporting event, service club or church, and may even have an idea what their hobbies are, who has a child or grandchildren, and what subjects will make them touchy. What one person admires are the same that annoy someone else.

And here’s the thing - all this applies equally to anyone involved enough to be a viable challenger. In a city our size where we bump into one another on a regular basis, every candidate brings their reputation with them when they enter the field of competition.

City election history bears this out. In 2000 and 2006 elections, popular challengers received the most votes in the race the very first time they threw their hats in the ring. If it hadn’t been “vote for two,” the incumbents would have been out.

Any seasoned political observer will tell you election success is also partly based on the luck of the draw as to what your position will be on the ballot, and the number of other candidates that qualify for a race. Rather than incumbent strength, otherwise well-qualified challengers can also split the vote so neither prevails.

Proponents claim incumbents have a fundraising advantage, but the largest, single donation in city history from a special interest ($27,000) went to a challenger, not an incumbent. That’s more than most entire council campaigns, and, as far as we’ve been able to determine, significant multiples larger than any other single donation.

But La Mesa voters are discerning. A candidate must bring something to the table. Those who've won have had the most developed resumes in the race, demonstrating relevant skills by having managed large budgets, and served on city boards and commissions; almost everyone serving on Council over the last 20 years built their resume this way. Many unsuccessful candidates, however, were simply longer on hope than achievement, having lived in the city only a few months, attended almost no City Council meetings or had very limited civic engagement - and that can’t be blamed on incumbent advantage.

Sometimes candidates run against themselves, with baggage that would make it difficult to prevail no matter whom they ran against. A succession of candidates had histories of bankruptcy, tax liens, and/or a string of other legal difficulties. One had a party at their home involving more than 100 youths, underage drinking and broken windows, followed by a misleading campaign photo that had been staged. Again, such problems cannot be attributed to a so-called incumbent advantage.

Although term limit advocates portray that largest-ever campaign donation as proof that challengers can’t beat incumbents, that candidate placed dead last in a field of five, substantially outpaced by all other non-incumbents as well. Sometimes baggage is simply too much for any amount of money to overcome.

So history shows not only that challengers can and have prevailed in La Mesa, but that a number of other factors also come into play that simply don’t support the theory of incumbent advantage. It’s just not true.

It’s said the perfect is the enemy of the good, and this is, of course, the trouble with politics. But look at the other cities around us. We live in La Mesa.... take a moment to let that sink in. There's simply no crisis that might justify limiting the voting rights of our citizenry.

Just because one -or one’s favorite candidate- didn’t win doesn’t show a rigged system, it simply shows that most voters didn’t agree with you. And why should those votes not get to count?

There’s nothing moral or community spirited about taking away a voting majority’s opportunity to retain someone if they wish, in order to gain a competitive advantage.

Now that would be tilting the field.

No Term Limits in La Mesa is a grassroots group that will not be fund raising, and relies of old fashioned community word of mouth.

If you feel our thoughts are worth the time to consider, please share this article with others, like us on Facebook, and visit our website (we taught ourselves how to make one just for this campaign). If you would like to receive our e-mail series, just drop us a note.

The views in this editorial reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact

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Level The Playing Field? <> TERM LIMITS

As a challenger! It would be very ill-advised if you were to say anything else. But as a citizen I would say, my vote indicated that I am more than happy with the “Representation I Have” and guess what in 4 years or what ever time frame some one else may have established, I want to continue to have the option to make that or any other choice that I am entitled, without the cloud handed me some time in the past, that does not allow me that full opportunity. Sorry we totally disagree! Don’t take away my option to Vote to retain!

Term Limits

This editorial makes it sound as though the only reason that term limits are on the ballot in La Mesa is because of a sour grape attitude by those that ran and lost in their campaign for city council. In today's world of politics, local government representatives are just as courted and schmoozed for favors, on behalf of special interests, as any state or federal representative. Long term representatives build their own network of influence and important issues end up being dealt with in the backrooms of City Hall. In Santee, we have a representative that is in his 28th consecutive year on the City Council, and two other representatives are working on 3rd and 4th terms. This leads to overconfident representatives that take ownership of City Hall and the the positions they are in. The Mayor of Santee, during the last election, stated he liked "his" team and thought "his" team was the only one that would work for the City of Santee. The assumption that these people will continue to win election after election creates a disenfranchised citizenry, that stops paying attention to their local elections and what their local representatives are doing, because they see the same names over and over again on the ballot. By design, it keeps people away that want to participate in their local government and bring new ideas to the table, or address problems that are present. Running for any office is time consuming, expensive, and just plain hard work. For the candidates going up against long term incumbents, with their network of support and campaign contributions they have developed over the years spent in office, candidates not only have run their campaign for office but also battle the malaise that has taken over the process. After awhile, the long term representatives are elected to office not because they are that good, but because the people have given up. They see less and less qualified candidates for office on the ballot and these incumbents become long term by default. Elections are held as a quality assurance process for the people. We see what happens at every level of government when the representatives in office no longer worry or fear that they will lose their jobs. They take ownership of what really belongs to the people, feel entitled to those positions, and the biggest losers are the people they say they represent. Term limits help to control those with their own agendas, hoping to get into local government, and then stay there until THEY decide it's time to go or are carried out in a pine box. Term limits help to keep the people involved in their own local government and that involvement allows those that wish to participate as representatives, a level playing field with voters that are now more alert and observent of their local elections. Maggie Acerra Santee City Council Candidate

No Term Limits in La Mesa

Hi Maggie. Can't speak about Santee, but in La Mesa we have turnover already without term limits. No matter who wins this election, there'll be two new and a third council member 2 years into a first term, making a Council majority with 0-2 years experience on our Council. And since 2000 two challengers received the most votes in their elections; if it hadn't been vote for two those incumbents would have been out. Council and residents alike take pride in our town's family friendly "Mayberry" atmosphere, with engaged citizenry and a Council that hands out their cell phone numbers. People call and e-mail Council members, corner them in the grocery store, show up for Council meetings, and take ownership and hold Council members accountable on a daily basis. An image of disenfranchised citizenry and complacent Council members just doesn't fit here. If anything, it can get a bit shrill.