Editor’s note: MoCo360 is participating in Democracy Day, an effort by media organizations to draw attention to the crisis facing democracy in the U.S. by providing the public with the information they need and to bring all types of media together to sound the alarm collectively. As part of our partnership, we are highlighting the mechanics of ballot initiatives.
Should the Montgomery County Executive be limited to two terms?
That’s the question Reardon Sullivan, 2022 GOP nominee for county executive, hopes voters will answer in the 2024 election.
The former Montgomery County Republican Central Committee chair launched the Committee for Better Government in April, which is leading a ballot petition effort that would give voters the chance to decide that question.
A ballot petition can be filed by any person or group to attempt to void an Act or parts of an Act passed by the General Assembly, according to the State Board of Elections. When the petition obtains the required number of signatures from voters on a referendum petition, the individual or group can submit it to the Secretary of State.
If all legal requirements are met and signatures are properly validated, the question of whether the referred Act will take effect will appear on the general election ballot, per the State Board of Elections.
Before signatures can be collected on the petition, a ballot issue committee must be established with the State Board of Elections.
Currently, the executive can serve up to three four-year terms. County Executive Marc Elrich (D) is in the first year of his second term. If the petition is successful, it appears on the ballot and if a majority of voters agree, Elrich would be prevented from running for a third term.
“It’s just common sense,” Sullivan said. “The president and the governor are only able to serve two [consecutive] terms. Term limits are pretty universally popular.”
The committee will need at least 10,000 validated signatures for the initiative to make it on the ballot. They have until August 2024.
Elrich was critical of the initiative when asked about it during a press briefing in August.
“I think it’s bad for politics. I wouldn’t do this to a Republican. If the voters want to elect somebody, they should be able to elect who they want,” Elrich said.
Elrich said he sees it as a ploy from Sullivan and other Republicans to knock him out of office.
“So, I guess [the Republican party] figures if they can’t take me out in an actual real election with a real candidate, they’ll see if they can knock me out with this.” Elrich said. “[Sullivan] doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He repeats this kind of trope that Montgomery County is an overtaxed place. It’s just flat out not true.”
Sullivan argues it’s not personal, though he has been critical of Elrich, particularly his support of higher property taxes. Elrich supported a 10% property tax hike earlier this year to fund the county budget, while the County Council approved a 4.7% increase.
“It’s not that I don’t like Marc Elrich … he’s a good person with a different vision than mine,” Sullivan said. “For me, this is more of a matter of what’s the right thing to do.”
And from Sullivan’s perspective, a two-term limit is the right thing. He pointed to other Maryland counties, such as Prince George’s, Frederick and Anne Arundel, which limit their county executives to two terms.
Sullivan said while he is a Republican, the committee is nonpartisan, and he doesn’t think the issue is partisan, either. He did say most of the committee’s 18 volunteers are either Republicans or independents.
Sullivan said the committee has garnered at least 400 signatures at National Night Out events in the county in August, and also collected signatures at the Montgomery County GOP table at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair. Sullivan said he doesn’t have an exact total yet but is pleased with the petition’s progress given that the committee still has a year to collect enough signatures.
“We have a pretty good start; it’s fabulous,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said while the committee isn’t collecting data on signees’ respective political parties, he’s talked to several Democrats who’ve signed the petition. He says they’ve told him they think term limits are common sense.
“In a Democratic-majority voter county, it’s going to be the Dems who decide,” Sullivan said. “Republicans aren’t going to make the difference in this decision.”
It wouldn’t be the first time an initiative put forward by a Republican received bipartisan support and success in Montgomery County, where Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters by more than 4 to 1.
In 2016, former General Assembly member and current Senate candidate Robin Ficker (R) successfully imposed term limits on the Montgomery County Executive and councilmembers, after his ballot initiative received 69% approval from county voters. Now, councilmembers and the executive can only serve for three consecutive four-year terms. Sullivan’s initiative only applies to the county executive office and not to councilmembers.
Elrich said he “made peace” with the Ficker initiative when the voters approved it, but he disagreed with it fundamentally.
“I don’t believe in term limits anyway,” he said.
Sullivan said Ficker’s success gives him confidence this question may not only end up on the ballot in 2024, but the term limit may fully come to fruition.
“People believe in this initiative,” Sullivan said. “And a lot of people believe in it enough that they’re getting the work done. It’s not just me behind this.”
MoCo360 reporter Elia Griffin contributed to this report.