After the final vote to pass the so-called “Smith amendment” Tuesday night, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President said she remained “confused.”
For a third session, the assembly entangled itself in a publicly unpopular attempt to overturn voter imposed term limits on their offices. One amendment after another was offered as assembly members tried to cobble together a passable ordinance that would overturn limits brought about by a 2009 citizen initiative.
At least five assembly members offered amendments to one or more of three possible ordinances – which were developed over the proceeding three months – seeking to repeal limits on their ability to hold office for more than two consecutive terms.
As a result of the assembly action, voters will, four a fourth time, have a choice on the fall ballot to decide in a yes or no vote to repeal term limits. A second ballot question, asking voters if the limit should be increased from two to three years, becomes relevant only if the voters do not repeal the limits.
“I’m still confused,” said Linda Murphy minutes after the 7-2 vote.
Murphy was not alone in her confusion as fellow assembly members and citizens in the galley declared the entire process to be confusing and overly complicated.
Twice, Murphy called recess for clarity’s sake. At one point, she requested the borough attorney read an amended version of the original ordinance, up for a vote, after the legal language became complex.
Assembly members, Kelly Wolf, District 1, and Charlie Pierce, District 5, voted against the final ordinance declaring that voters spoke definitively in favor of term limits on three separate occasions.
“How many times must the people vote?” asked Pierce. “Do we do it until we get it the way we want it?”
Many believe that low voter turnout on Election Day will effectively end term limits, if the pro- repeal assembly members can rally their dedicated constituencies to the polls for the vote.
Wolf warned that odd year elections draw few voters to Kenai elections. A small percentage of voters will show up on something that affects 56,000 residents, he said.
“That’s where my problem is,” Wolf said.
A notable shift occurred when District 9 Assemblymember Mako Haggerty flopped on his July promise to vote against any repeal because his constituency hade voted for term limits three times in the last 20 years.
“I’m going to vote against,” Haggerty said on July 2. “The people voted, so it will stand.”
People change their mind, he said Tuesday during the meeting.
Initially offered by District 2 Assemblyman and Assembly Vice President Hal Smalley back in June, the ordinance sought to simply overturn the two-term limit imposed by voters twice, once in a non-binding advisory vote.
Smalley continued to favor total repeal by assembly action rather than voter choice, which was eventually approved. Warning not to “confuse” the voters, Smalley said he would like to see a repeal or not by the assembly.
Smalley is on record saying that with each term limit election voters are less and less supportive of the restriction to the idea endless incumbency.
Tuesday’s action comes after a three-month delay in which the borough was to work on any proposed ballot language that would appear in any one of the three ordinances and to reopen the issue to public comment.
“It’s hard to figure out what’s going on,” said Kasilof resident George Pierce, a regular attendee of assembly meetings.
Pierce warned against the pro-repeal statements that the borough has lost talented leadership over term limits. There are better people that you out there, he said to the board.
“No person is irreplaceable,” he said.
Reach Greg Skinner at firstname.lastname@example.org