With many among them up for a third or fourth re-election in 2014 and 2015, members of the assembly are looking to remove citizen-created term limits from borough law this summer.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Tuesday will float a proposed ordinance, through the consent agenda, that seeks to amend a 2007 citizen initiative limiting them to two consecutive terms without taking a six-month break before a third.
“They always do (this),” said Fred Sturman, a longtime Soldotna resident, recent mayoral candidate and citizen who fought for borough assembly terms limits. The assembly seems to think they know better than the voters who created and supported the law, he said.
Ordinance 2013-20, if approved next month, will be the second assembly action to repeal the popular citizen initiative setting assembly term limits in 20 years. A 2007 initiative won voter approval 52.75 percent to 47.25 percent. In 1993, voters favored assembly term limits by a margin just shy of 2 to 1. Six years later, without seeking voter approval, the assembly repealed the law before it could limit anyone seeking a longer stay in their seat.
Alaska law prevents the borough from changing or removing a law resulting from a citizen initiative for two years. In 2009 the assembly changed some language in the ordinance so that partial service of a term did not count as a full term in in relation to term limits.
Assembly Vice President Hal Smalley says voters should be allowed to decide if they want a candidate in office again and again rather than limits set by law. Smalley wrote the proposed ordinance; and for those that say the assembly is acting against the public call for term limits, he says, “Let those people vote me out.”
Smalley is up for a fourth term in 2014 and is cognizant of voters approval of the term limits, though he believes that those limits are a “disservice” to borough citizens.
The ordinance language claims that the public lost out when term limits forced several assemblymen with years of experience from borough government. Seeing the borough as a multi-million dollar business, Smalley said that 51 years of combined assembly experience was lost to the law with the first three assemblymen affected. A corporation wouldn’t do that, he said.Nikiski resident James Price says the original idea for assembly term limits rests in a desire to have citizens as public servants rather than career politicians. Price is a leading member of the Alliance for Concerned Taxpayers, which created the 2007 term limit law and fought the borough through to the Alaska Supreme Court to enforce the new limits.
Smalley’s ordinance addresses Price’s concern directly by claiming in the body of the proposed law, “The most effective way to limit terms is to vote on Election Day.” It goes on to claim that “...assembly members live and work in the community in which they serve and therefore are not out of touch with their constituents.”
Though a 2011 Alaska Supreme Court decision found that term limits do no disenfranchise voters or candidates, the proposed ordinance language claims that term limits “infringes upon the right to vote for a candidate of choice.”
“It’s limiting, if a person can’t run (because of term limits),” Smalley said.
If approved this summer, the change will not affect the three assembly members facing reelection during the 2013; all are in their first term of office. However, repealing the citizen-driven law would open 2014 to optional fourth consecutive terms for Bill Smith (Dist. 8) and Smalley. A third consecutive term for Charlie Pierce (Dist. 5) also becomes possible. Both Sue McClure (Dist. 6) and Mako Haggerty (Dist. 9) would become eligible to run for third terms in 2015.
The amendments might come too close the the general election for Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers to gather the money and forces and get a new term limit ordinance on the fall ballot.
The history of the argument between the alliance and the assembly is long and court-filled. Originally, the 2007 ordinance sough to also limit the terms of school board members but that was deemed unconstitutional by the Alaska Supreme Court. The court did find that assembly terms could be limited, but not beginning with that same 2007 election – nearly half the assembly would have become immediately ineligible for the offices they’d just won.
The public can get a better sense of the assembly’s discussions on the matter, which is expected to be discussed during the Assembly’s Policies and Procedure Committee at 3:45 p.m. June 4.
A public hearing on the matter is set for July 2. Smalley said he hopes a second public hearing will be allowed to give the public time to express their concerns.
Greg Skinner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org