Updated at 2:45 p.m. – A Republican activist with a long history of challenging Montgomery County laws and its Democratic elected officials is once again pushing for a ballot question that would limit the county executive and County Council members to three consecutive four-year terms.
Robin Ficker, the Boyds man who in 2008 proposed a successful referendum making it harder for the council to increase the property tax rate, said Tuesday he’s collected more than 8,000 signatures for the term limit referendum.
He needs 10,000 verified signatures by August 2016 to get the question on the November 2016 ballot.
“There are literally hundreds of thousands of people in this county who are qualified for these jobs but yet, there’s very little turnover,” Ficker told Bethesda Beat. “Having an open seat once in a while brings about a robust discussion of the issues. It brings in new people. It brings in fresh ideas.”
The term limit proposal would apply retroactively to elected officials who have already served three or more terms, meaning that if passed, three-term County Executive Ike Leggett wouldn’t be able to run again in 2018.
Leggett spokesperson Patrick Lacefield said the county executive had no comment about possible term limits because “he is not running” for a fourth term in 2018.
The term limits would also prevent three-term District 1 council member Roger Berliner, three-term at-large council member Marc Elrich, four-term at-large council member Nancy Floreen and four-term at-large council member George Leventhal from running for those seats in 2018.
Ficker has pushed for the term limit ballot question three times before. In 2000 and 2004, he got enough verified signatures to get the question on the ballot. Forty-six percent voted in favor of term limits in 2000 and 48.6 percent voted in favor of term limits in 2004, meaning term limits were narrowly defeated.
Ficker said the question didn’t get on the ballot in 2010 because he didn’t get enough legible signatures.
Over the weekend, Ficker was at the Bethesda Row Arts Festival collecting signatures. He’s also made the pitch at local grocery stores, a frequent stomping ground for the frequent political candidate who has proposed ballot questions aimed at Montgomery County term limits, tax increases and budget duplication since the 1970s.
Ficker, who has also filed as a Republican candidate for the 6th District congressional seat for the 2016 primary, said he thinks a competitive presidential election next year could create enough interest to get the term limits passed.
“By signing, these people are saying that they want to hear debate. What’s wrong with hearing a debate on how Montgomery County should be run? That’s a very good thing,” Ficker said. “If you can’t get it done in 12 years, you’re not going to get it done and if you’re really good, you should run for higher office.”
Prince George’s County is the only municipality in the Washington area that limits terms for local elected officials. The county’s voters kept a two-term limit in place in 2000, rejected a charter amendment to create two non-term-limited at-large council seats in 2004 and narrowly rejected increasing the term limit from two terms to three terms in 2014.
In 2008, Ficker shocked the county’s political establishment when his ballot question requiring unanimous council approval to raise property taxes above the county’s charter limit passed.
The so-called “Ficker amendment” is likely to come into play during the county’s next cycle of budget deliberations.
Leggett has said he could propose raising the county’s property tax above the charter limit for fiscal year 2017 to make up for shortfalls created by lower-than-expected tax revenue and money the county must pay as a result of the state losing the Wynne tax case in the Supreme Court.