Robin Ficker (left) and Tom Moore (right) debated term limits for local politicians at the Greater Olney Civic Association on Tuesday. Credit: Douglas Tallman
Term limits on local politicians would help fight property, transfer and energy tax increases, and help bring fresh ideas to the Montgomery County Council, lawyer and local activist Robin Ficker said Tuesday night.
“If you’re not going to get it done in 12 years, you’re not going to get it done,” Ficker said.
Former Rockville city councilman Tom Moore, who is leading a legal challenge of Ficker’s term limits ballot question, countered Ficker was presenting good arguments for not voting for the incumbents, not changing the system.
The two men presented their arguments concerning term limits during a debate before about 40 members of the Greater Olney Civic Association.
Ficker collected 17,649 signatures from people who want to vote on whether the county executive and County Council members should be limited to three consecutive, four-year terms. After delivering the signatures to the Montgomery County Board of Elections last month, 12,573 names were verified, which means the question will be placed on the November general election ballot. To make the ballot, Ficker needed 10,000 verified signatures.
Moore, who is leading the “No on B” effort, has taken the county and state election boards to court, claiming many signatures were verified that shouldn’t have been. A number of signatures were left off and the color of the ink and penmanship make it clear someone else filled in some of the information, he says.
In a hearing Wednesday morning, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert A. Greenberg denied Moore’s request for a two-week delay in the case. The two sides will appear in his courtroom Thursday morning.Countering Ficker’s arguments in support of term limits, Moore said the county’s new public financing law for candidates would do more to bring change on the council, because candidates will be relieved of having to raise massive amounts of money. The law requires candidates get small amounts from individual voters only—no PACs, corporations or unions—which can then be leveraged to a contribution from the county. He cited Gov. Larry Hogan’s victory in 2014. Hogan used the state’s public financing plan for the gubernatorial race.
Ficker spent much of his opening remarks railing against tax increases imposed by the current council, including an 8.7 percent property tax increase this year. He also cited the council’s refusal to reduce a temporary energy tax.
Ficker said term limits would create open seats, which would lead to more candidates. He used the 8th congressional district as an example. Few people have challenged U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen while he has held the seat since 2002. His decision to leave the House of Representatives and vie for a Senate seat drew eight candidates who wanted to replace him, Ficker noted.
“Open seats present opportunities,” he said.
Moore said enacting term limits would mean expertise leaves a lawmaking body, handing more power to lobbyists and elected officials’ staff, who don’t face elections.
“I would prefer the expertise and accountability be in the same place,” he said.
If term limits go through, it’s unlikely it would help Republican candidates, Moore said. Most likely, the Democrats who would be removed from the council would be replaced with other Democrats, which are the political majority in the county.
Ficker, who has sought term limits in 2000 and 2004, accused Moore of trying to take away the voice of people who signed the petitions by filing his suit. Moore said “more than 2,500” of the signatures do not meet state standards. “Following the rules matters,” he said.
At least twice, Ficker demanded to know who was funding Moore’s legal challenge. After the debate, Moore said he had just opened a campaign account for No on B. It currently has $50, he said. After the court case, he said he would raise funds to cover expenses.