• Gregory Z. Smith

Term Limits

Updated: Jun 11, 2019

Earlier this year, I introduced two ideas to the council and got little to no support for either of them. That can happen in democratic processes. However, I leave this post in place because I believe the discussion will need to continue at some point. Perhaps with ranked choice voting successfully implemented, after this election we can see a way to more equitably distribute the challenges when we run for the different offices.


I have mixed feelings about term limits. When we have people in office who know the issues, listen to constituents, and do them proud, it is a shame for those people to have to go because they're term limited. On the other hand, when we have people in office who keep getting reelected more because they are incumbents than because of the jobs they are doing, it is unfortunate.


Mexico limits their presidents to one, six-year term. However, Canada and the United Kingdom have no term limits for their prime ministers. The U.S. president, New Mexico governor, and Doña Ana County commissioners are all limited to two, four-year terms, but we have no term limits for members of Congress, the New Mexico legislature, or the Las Cruces city council. Interestingly, there still often seems to be something of a self-imposed two-term limit for councilors, but it is nowhere in statute.


Because of the situation some councilors face when they decide to run for mayor, I have for several years considered one solution that I am bringing forward in 2019. The term limit part of it is negotiable, but the length of the mayoral term is really the "limit" with which I'm most concerned.


Currently in Las Cruces, the race for mayor occurs every four years along with the councilor races in Districts 1, 2, and 4. In addition to meaning that more people vote in the municipal elections in those years, it also means that councilors in those three districts have to choose between running for the council seat or the mayoral seat: they cannot run for both. Meanwhile, councilors for Districts 3, 5, and 6 can run for mayor without forfeiting their seats because their election cycle has the race for mayor happening halfway through their terms. They also have fewer voters turn out because their races occur in years when there is not a race for mayor.


This may seem minor, but what it means is that three of the districts have fewer people voting on a regular basis and no penalty for their councilors running for mayor. Yet, those interested in continuing to serve the community in elected office in the other three districts have to make a more difficult choice if they consider running for mayor, even as more people vote in their races.


The fairest solution that I have been able to generate is this: we should change to mayoral terms that are six years long, and perhaps we should limit the mayor to two, six-year terms. This means that the race for mayor occurs on the same cycle with Districts 1, 2, and 4 first (say, in 2023) and on the same cycle with Districts 3, 5, and 6, six years later (2029). Then, six years after that (2035), the mayoral race is back with Districts 1, 2, and 4 again, and so on. Thus, both district election cycles alternate including a mayoral race with the benefits of increased voting and opportunities for councilors to run at some point for mayor without automatically forfeiting their council seats.


In addition to the above positive changes, I anticipate that other benefits would accrue, as well, such as a longer period of leadership continuity when mayors keep their role for at least six years and more time for mayors to be doing the job instead of campaigning for it. Some may question my timing in bringing this up, since I am running for mayor this year. I can appreciate that, but the truth is that this makes sense to me regardless of my own aspirations. Additionally, this will have to be approved by the voters before being enacted, and there is typically a delay in implementation of such changes so that those on the council voting on such issues cannot benefit during their current terms. So, it might be that the six-year term could be implemented after a "yes" vote in the 2019 election, starting with whomever is elected mayor in 2019, but it is more likely to start with whomever is elected mayor in 2023.


There would seem to be no easy "right" or ""wrong" answer on this, but we should be looking at what in the way of terms and term limits most benefits our community. This was discussed and essentially dismissed at a work session, but I am open to further discussion.





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