I have been good friends with John Moorlach for over twenty years, from before he successfully predicted the County’s bankruptcy which led to his stepping away from his private sector job as a Certified Public Accountant and into what has been many years of great public service first as our County Treasurer, and now as a Supervisor. While I hold the Supervisor in very high esteem, and agree with most of the things he tries to accomplish, his latest effort to try and weaken our county’s term limits for Supervisor, with a plan to mislead the voters, was totally outrageous and I applaud a majority of Moorlach’s colleagues for voting it down at yesterday’s meeting of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
The draft ordinance that had been brought forward by Moorlach would have, if presented to and passed by the voters, changed the current limit of two consecutive four-year terms to a limit of three terms, with a lifetime ban. Unfortunately the measure was very overtly written to allow all of the current Supervisors, with the exception of Bill Campbell who hits term limits this year, to have an additional term in office. That said, I have spoken to several constitutional law attorneys who believe that the passage of Moorlach’s ordinance as written could possibly “reset the clock” for all of the Supervisors, meaning that they all could run for three more terms after its passage — seriously.
Orange County voters, in the wake of the bankruptcy scandal, overwhelmingly passed the county’s current two-term limit for Supervisors. And every member of the Board today ran for office knowing that they would be so limited. The idea behind the term limits is pretty straight forward — that it is good that those in political power, after holding office for some limited period of time, return “back to the people” to live under the laws and regulations that they promulgated while in office. It is also significant to note that there are a great many people capable of serving in public office, and term limits allows for a greater diversity in representation. Integral to the argument for term limits is that, for all practical purposes, it is very rare that a challenger to an incumbent stands a decent change of winning. Especially when you factor-in all of the funding that incumbents tend to attract from the special interests that seek to curry favor with them.
All of this said, there is never a bad time to engage in spirited discussions about public policy issues, including term limits. However, it is important that we throw two important factors into the mix about Moorlach’s proposal that take his draft ordinance out of the realm of mere “public policy discussion” and place it more into the category of trying to pull a fast one on the voters of this county.
The first is the blatant inclusion of the current incumbents, including Moorlach, as beneficiaries of longer terms. It is almost impossible now to even have a discussion that does not include the obvious self-benefit derived by a board that would put this before the voters.
The second, and more insidious, was Moorlach’s plan to fool the voters as to what they were actually voting for, by ordering the County Clerk to use a misleading ballot title for the measure. The proscribed ballot title would have been: “An Ordinance Of The County Of Orange, California, Repealing Section 1-2-9 Of The Codified Ordinances Of The County Of Orange And Adding Article IV, Sections 401, 402, 403, And 404 To The Charter Of Orange County Imposing A Lifetime Limit On The Number Of Terms For Members Of The Orange County Board Of Supervisors.”
Notice how nowhere in the title is the voter informed that this measure would increase by 50% the allowable time that Supervisors may contiguously serve in office, and of course it certainly does not mention that the measure would apply to the very incumbents who have placed it before the voters for consideration. What does appear? Somehow the proposed “lifetime ban” is in included in the title. I believe that this misleading title was crafted to purposely attempt to fool voters into thinking that a vote for this measure would actually strengthen, not weaken, the county’s term limits ordinance. It is clear that the “lifetime ban” was just a ruse. This is born out by the fact that if Moorlach had altered his proposal to leave the two-term limit in place, but add a lifetime ban, that I think that would have had the votes to get onto the June ballot. But, as I said, that was not the real intent here.
I was very proud of Supervisors Patricia Bates, Bill Campbell and Janet Nguyen for rejecting this outrageous proposal, and would encourage Supervisors Moorlach and Shawn Nelson, who voted for it, to strongly reconsider their support in the future, especially when it includes a scheme to mislead the voters, as well as language that could allow for incumbents to run for as many as one to three more terms than they otherwise would be able.
I will close this commentary as I opened it, with some positive words about my friend John Moorlach. He has been a leader for fiscal sanity in our county — and his advocacy for meaningful pension reform is right-on, even if he is tilting at a windmill when the state’s public employee unions control the politics of the State Capitol. It is my sincere hope that the Supervisor has gotten this “weakening of term limits” bug out of his system, and will focus his remaining two-plus years in office on accomplishing many of the other great things on his public policy agenda.