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Term Limits' Landslide Win Sends Strong Message, Sponsor Says


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Editor's note: a previous version of this article stated that Santa Monica Forward bankrolled the campaigns of three Council candidates. It backed the candidates but ran separate campaigns.

November 9, 2018 – When Santa Monica voters in Tuesday’s election granted overwhelming approval to term limits for the City Council, they were also blasting out a stern warning, says the City Hall watchdog who helped craft Measure TL.

“We’re watching you,” said Mary Marlow, who authored TL with Councilmember Sue Himmelrich, who was elected to a second four-year term Tuesday.

“Voter expectations of what is expected of the council has risen.”

Measure TL imposes limits of three four-year terms on incumbents and challengers who win a seat on the seven-member council. It takes effect in 2020.

The clock is reset for incumbents; they serve the maximum of 12 years, if they manage to win all their re-election bids.

The measure won in a landslide with 18,999 votes in favor, or nearly 74 percent, and 6,816 votes in opposition.

Marlow said the mandate was particularly notable because TL was opposed by Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), the City’s most powerful political organization, as the city’s political establishment.

Union Facts asks "Who's really running City Hall?"

It was also opposed by every member of the Council except Himmelrich.

“Term limits," Councilmenber Kevin McKeown said after the election, "is one of those reactionary ideas that sounds good until voters realize they’ve just limited their own ability to cast votes the way they want to in future elections.

“We won’t see the negative effects for another twelve years, but artificially limiting voters' ability to approve effective elected leaders will eventually give institutional longevity and therefore more power to lobbyists and moneyed interests,” McKeown said.

McKeown said his re-election Tuesday to a sixth four-year term "without developer or corporate contributions to my campaign, being funded overwhelmingly from Santa Monica residents, disproves the contention that incumbents benefit primarily from outside-interest money.”

Although McKeown raised most of his money from several hundred local contributors, he also received the backing of Santa Monica Forward, a pro-growth group that used developer funds to back his candidacy, along with those of incumbent Pam O'Connor and challenger Greg Morena.

McKeown, who finished first in his last three re-election bids, finished third with 12,559 votes, behind Himmelrich and Morena.

O'Connor failed in her bid for a record seventh term, finishing a distant fourth.

Marlow said voters supported term limits because they were worried about problems they feel the council has failed to address over several years.

These include development in an already congested city, a growing homelessness population and big jumps in crime.

“I think they looked at the last few years and thought, ‘Are we better off or worse off?’ and realized we need change. We need a pro-active council, not a reactive council. We need some new ideas.”

Former Mayor Denny Zane said voter support of term limits is not a simple reflection of a disgruntled local electorate.

"People equate term limits to having more popular control over government, and to may people it rings true," said Zane, who is co-chair of SMRR.

"To many people, limited government is an important value."

Still, Zane said, "nearly 75 percent is an impressive outcome, although two incumbents were re-elected."

Marlow believes term limits will bring new public interest in running for the Council -– always a formidable and usually unsuccessful task.

When incumbents decide to run, they almost always win, blessed with fundraising clout and the support of the political powers that be.

O'Connor became only the third incumbent in a quarter century to lose a re-election bid.

Jorge Casuso contributed to this report


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