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A 12 Year Term Limit Is Not Reform

Filed under: Erie County, Local Politics


Erie County Legislator Kevin Hardwick several months ago proposed limiting county legislators to ten consecutive years in office. Hardwick’s proposal only applied to county legislators and not to other county wide elected positions. Hardwick has now revised his proposal to be a limit of twelve consecutive years that will apply to County Legislators and all other county elected officials which includes the County Executive, Sheriff, District Attorney, Comptroller and Clerk.

I support term limits because over time power corrupts and because elections are so strongly rigged in favor of incumbents. Ninety percent of the time no matter the office an incumbent wins because the drawing of district lines, access to money, access to patronage employees, and free media which builds name recognition, typically results in a landslide victory. Very few elections are even competitive, many incumbents win election without any opponent because the odds of success for any challenger are just too high.

Public service should not be a career, after a period of time people should step aside, move on and let someone else serve. Once people get a taste of the power and perks of public office, they rarely want to leave. Term limits at least every few years creates an open seat where all candidates are challengers without the rigged benefits of being an incumbent.

The problem with Hardwick’s proposal is that a limit of twelve consecutive years is too long. If a twelve year term limit was enacted in the year 2000, an analysis of county elections since then shows that only one county politician would have been term limited in 2013 (Lynn Marinelli). If an eight year limit was enacted in the year 2000, seven politicians would have been term limited (Marinelli(09), Sheriff Howard(13), Legislator Mills (13), Legislator Loughran (13), Legislator Rath (15), Legislator Grant(15), District Attorney Sedita (16).

It is easy to propose a twelve year consecutive limit and then not apply it retroactively to yourself. Hardwick believes that it would be unfair to make the law retroactive because “If someone who was elected eight or 10 years ago knew at the time that they would be subject to term limits, maybe they would not have sought re-election”. What kind of logic is that?

An eight year limit would actually have an impact in moving incumbents along and creating open seats for a more competitive election. A twelve year limit is pretend reform. In the past fifteen years a twelve year limit would have resulted in one politician being term limited. According to the Buffalo News: “The aim of the proposed law change, said Hardwick, is to combat the potentially corrupting influences of incumbency”. If the goal is to combat the corrupting influences of incumbency then do something meaningful like an 8 year limit, instead of a twelve year limit which does not have any impact.

Interestingly in the City of Buffalo from 1928 until the late 1960’s Mayor’s were limited to serving one four year term. Mayor Frank Sedita did not like being limited to one term so by action of the City Council the limit was removed. Without term limits there we had 16 years of Mayor Griffin, 12 years of Masiello and soon 12 years of Brown. Three Mayors over 40 years, which would have been ten different Mayors instead with a one term limit.

The public needs to demand an eight year term limit for all county elected officials as real reform. We have an eight year term limit for President of the United States, the town of Amherst has an eight year limit as does Evans and Lackawanna. Eight is enough!

  • HapKlein

    In the heavily gerrymandered election Districts on every level term limits are an illusion of change. Cloned Party Hacks can just get promoted from low to higher levels whether the office is municipal, county and state levels.

    Party Chieftains will decide which person gets which office with periodic reactions by splinter groups of the same party who may provide some minor changes.

    The country State and County needs to develop honest representation that will diminish Party Control of elections. Don’t try to hold your breath until you see any legislative body vote to reduce Political Party Influence.

    My favorite reform is the California model that allows majority votes in Primaries to select District Representatives. This sometimes results in two major candidates of the same party running for the same office but at least its not the back room of the Political Party doing the selection.

    But election reform is distinctly similar to the challenge of getting a person to understand something that will result in reduced income. No matter how you parse and dice and slice the subject, Sitting Party Hacks are just never going to perceive any benefit to election reform. It is subject they just don’t understand the need for applying to their own body.