Term Limits: The Voter-Enacted Initiative That Some Don't Remember

by Dan Pressburg

Mr. Pressburg, a longtime NLB community advocate and volunteer, was a 9th district City Council candidate in 2010 until sidelined by health issues, now resolved.


(June 4, 2012) -- Before there was an and a three-term write-in Mayor Beverly O'neill, there was a lawyer named Dennis Crroll and a 30 year incumbent Councilman named Thomas Clark.

An article in November 1992 stated: Author of Prop. G Has One Regret, (Dennis Carroll): It Cost Too Much : Term limits: That initiative took 41,000 signatures and $65,000 of his own money. "It was all worth it," Dennis Carroll was quoted as saying in the story.

Dennis Carroll figured it wouldn't cost much to get a term-limits measure on the Long Beach ballot. His initial strategy was simple. He could do the legal work himself, get a few volunteers to help collect signatures and maybe spend about $2,000.

41,000 signatures and about $65,000 dollars later, Proposition G was birthed from his own savings. Long Beach voters approved Proposition G, which was the only one of four city propositions that passed on that Tuesday in November 1992.

At the time, Mr. Carroll said, "I had no idea this was going to cost what it did. If I had known what I was doing, I would have solicited small donations..."

The original measure prohibited City Council members who'd already served two terms from being listed on the ballot; they could run but only as write-in candidates. (A few years later, a Council-written ballot measure diluted this restriction by letting candidates seeking three or more terms have their names appear on the ballot in a June runoff if they finished among the top two candidates as a write-in candidate in April).

Mr. Carroll acknowledged that he'd considered running for City Council in the 4th District where Councilman Clark has served for decades (where Carroll has lived for 15 years). "The guy representing my district has been there 26 years," said Carroll, in a news story. "And he's a good man, but it seemed to me that some new ideas, or new enthusiasm might be more productive."

Carroll's inclination to run for office was stopped by the large sums the council incumbents raised for their reelection campaigns.

"I was shocked by what was being spent. They were spending $50,000 to $100,000 for a part-time job," he said. "The incumbents have these tremendous advantages. They can mail things for free, and their special interests are already in place to support their campaigns."

The term limits measure approved by voters was designed to limit politicians' time in office as a step toward opening city government to concerned citizens who don't have the money to run against an incumbent. It wasn't directed at any particular council member but "against the process that bends and shapes what they do," said Mr. Carroll...who was subsequently elected to the City Council in the 4th district.

Long Beach voters spoke clearly then, but now in 2012, 4th district voters again see an incumbent on the ballot seeking more than two he and other interest groups spend tens of thousands of dollars to try and keep him in office.

The incumbent has argued that Long Beach doesn't strictly-speaking have a term limits law; it simply sets a higher burden for incumbents who seek more than two terms to write-in election first or second place finish first.

But what the incumbent isn't saying is that by trying to remain in office beyond two terms shuns 41,000 Long Beach voters citywide who said two terms are enough. This is another case of an incumbent and his supporters telling voters that they know better

On Tuesday (June 5), 4th district voters will have the last word. They will show if the over 65% of those voting in April for a new Councilmember will send Daryl Supernaw to City Hall to replace Patrick O'Donnell, who's now seeking a third Council term. What the incumbent wants is something no voters in Long Beach history have allowed since enacting Dennis Carroll's ballot measure twenty years ago.

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