City leaders defend elected officials’ term limits
Honolulu Charter Commission leaders say there’s a legitimate argument for allowing the mayor and City Council members to serve up to three consecutive four-year termsinstead of the current two terms.
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Honolulu Charter Commission leaders say there’s a legitimate argument for allowing the mayor and City Council members to serve up to three consecutive four-year terms instead of the current two terms.
Charter Commission Chairman David Rae and commission member John Waihee, the former governor, told a gathering of Honolulu Star-Advertiser editors and reporters last week that it takes time for elected officials to come up to speed with their jobs, and that eight years may not be enough time for more intricate plans and projects to be completed.
Two-term limits have been around for decades, Rae said. “Maybe with the (issues) of today like homelessness and rail and things like that, a steadier hand might be appropriate.”
But if voters don’t like what they’re seeing, “every four years, you still have the chance to change,” he said.
If Honolulu voters approve Charter Amendment No. 15, someone now in office would be able to serve a third term. Council Chairman Ernie Martin, who is now midway through his second consecutive term, would be eligible to run for a third term in 2018. Mayor Kirk Caldwell, if he wins re-election next month, would be eligible for a third term in 2020.
Caldwell, in an interview, told the Star-Advertiser that he opposes the charter amendment. Asked if he would run for a third consecutive term in four years if he wins re-election next month, the mayor said he is focused on this re-election campaign and
that 2020 is too far away for him to think about.
Waihee, who termed out after two four-year terms as governor, said he personally doesn’t believe in term limits for any elected legislative offices like city councils and state legislatures.
Capping City Council terms at three consecutive four-year terms, as proposed in the amendment, was a compromise to satisfy those who feel Council members and mayors should have the same term limits, he said.
“For me, the responsibility for the type of government you have is dependent on the voters,” Waihee said. “I find the argument
for term limits a little elitist … in the sense that there are people who don’t like certain (elected officials) and they think that the rest of the public is too dumb to see why they don’t like them.”
Rae agreed. “I believe that people have the right, the absolute right, to elect whomever they want in the legislative capacity,” he said.
Waihee said that in the California State Assembly, the number of years an elected official can serve in one office is so short that politicians are constantly “changing seats” or “looking for jobs as soon as they’re elected.”
He added: “You talk about lobbyists being able to control the Legislature. …”
To some extent, office-swapping is already happening on Oahu, where city and state lawmakers are jumping between Council and legislative seats because of the two-term limit at the Council level, Waihee said.
Five of the current nine Council members have held office in the state Legislature — Carol Fukunaga, Ann Kobayashi, Joey Manahan, Ron Menor and Kymberly Pine. Several state lawmakers — Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz, Breene Harimoto and Donna Mercado Kim, and Rep. Romy Cachola — were formerly on the Honolulu Council.
But Waihee and Rae both said there should be limits placed on those elected to executive offices like governor and mayor because people in such positions may otherwise be able to gain too much power in office.
“Three terms seems to be when people maximize their effectiveness,” Waihee said. “After that, there is maybe a tendency for people to get lazy (and) tired.”
While there are currently two-term limits on the mayor and Council members, the elected Honolulu prosecutor can serve an unlimited number of terms. The amendment would impose a three-term limit on the prosecutor’s
office as well.
The initial proposal that led to Charter Amendment No. 15, submitted by commission member Paul Oshiro, included imposing a limit of six two-year terms for members of Oahu’s neighborhood boards. But that part of the proposal was dropped after a string of neighborhood board members said the city already has a difficult enough time finding people to fill the all-voluntary seats on their boards. Opponents also argued that neighborhood boards are advisory in nature.
While there was ample testimony on why there should not be term limits on board members, there was scant opposition to the three-consecutive-term section of the proposal.
Downtown resident Lynne Matusow submitted testimony against three-term limits for mayors and Council members, arguing that no other Hawaii county allows 12 years. Matusow said that because the prosecutor’s position requires unique qualifications, she was opposed to placing a limit on the terms for that seat.