Local activist Robin Ficker on Monday submitted a petition with what he claims are more than 18,000 signatures in favor of adding a term-limit question to the November ballot.
Flanked by reporters, Ficker hauled a heavy box filled with petitions to the second floor offices of County Executive Ike Leggett in Rockville.
If the county’s Board of Elections verifies the signatures, the petition would place a question on the November ballot that would enable voters to decide if the county executive and County Council members should be limited to three consecutive terms. A minimum of 10,000 signatures is required to place a question on the ballot.
If a majority of voters support term limits, it would prohibit at least four and as many as five council members, as well as Leggett from running for re-election in 2018.
The term limit question would force longtime Democratic council members George Leventhal, Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen and Marc Elrich out of their seats as each will have served three or more terms by 2018. It may also affect Nancy Navarro, who served a partial term in 2009 before being elected to two full terms in 2010 and 2014.
However, the council last week passed language for a second ballot question that would ask residents to define a partial term as more than two years. If that passes, Navarro could run for a third term, according to county legislative attorney Josh Hamlin. Ficker said the council’s move was an attempt to confuse voters and protect Navarro’s seat. He suggested Monday that voters vote down the language.
All nine Montgomery County Council members are Democrats.
Ficker, a Republican lawyer, took issue with being described as a “Republican activist” during a press event Monday, instead saying he wanted to be known as a defense attorney who is protecting the public against tax increases, overdevelopment and “self-serving” council members.
“I’m defending the people of Montgomery County against a lack of any progress on improving I-270,” Ficker said. “I’m protecting Montgomery County against a 10 percent tax increase… When this passes we’ll have five open council seats. We’re opening up the system, getting fresh ideas in.”
Ficker previously led efforts to create term limits in the county in 2000 and 2004, but voters narrowly voted down the measure both times. In 2010, he also attempted to add the question to the ballot, but the Board of Elections threw out many of the signatures he gathered and the petition didn’t reach the required 10,000.
This time he says he made sure every petition signer printed his or her name legibly. He also said he personally checked more than 15,000 names against voter registration rolls to ensure they are legitimate. He said 44 percent of the signatures came from Democrats.
Last week, council president Nancy Floreen said all nine council members were against term limits. The primary argument against term limits is that if voters really wanted to remove elected officials from office, they can vote them out during the election.
However, Ficker responded that the county has an “obscure” June primary and incumbents have fundraising advantages over challengers. In the 2014 primary, about 110,000 of 630,000 registered voters cast ballots—about 17 percent of registered voters, according to county statistics. Ficker said this allows Democratic incumbent council members to play to a small base while in office to ensure active Democratic voters usher them through the primary. They are then able to easily win the general election because Democrats outnumber Republicans by 3-to-1 in the county.
Former County Council member Michael Subin asks that security be called on reporters at press event in Rockville: pic.twitter.com/BpqUZBXgug
— Bethesda Beat (@BethesdaBeat) August 8, 2016
There was a bit of drama when Ficker brought a gaggle of reporters with him to drop off the signatures. When a county employee emerged–later identified as former County Council member Michael Subin–from behind a glass wall to pick up the box, he demanded the media take no pictures of him. A reporter for The Washington Post responded that it was a public building and the employee just walked into the middle of an obvious press event. Subin then asked if a secretary would call security. However, security wasn’t called and the box was left for a county attorney to pick up.
The Board of Elections has until Aug. 31 to verify the signatures, according to Hamlin.