The current mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska, Chris Beutler, is the first and only mayor to be elected for three consecutive terms for the city of Lincoln.
Beutler announced his intention to run for his fourth term in March 2018. In response to the mayor’s announcement, former state GOP chair and member of Nebraska’s Republican Committee J. L. Spray created a petition in support of imposing mayoral term limits for the city of Lincoln, claiming the mayor had been in office too long and that mayoral term limits would help new voices be heard. The petition was successful in placing an initiative that will be on the ballot during November’s Lancaster County election.
This initiative to change the city charter should not be voted on during this election cycle because it was presented for the benefit of one specific party, rather than for the city of Lincoln as a whole. Term limits do offer the benefit of allowing new people to lead in certain circumstances. However, they aren’t needed in the case of a mayoral office because it is much easier for new people to be elected if the voters determine a need for change.
The larger an election is, the less direct influence each voter has in the outcome and vice versa for smaller elections. In high-power races, such as for governor or senator, candidates are subjected to large voting pools. This larger population of voters minimizes the impact individuals have in the electoral outcome.
Voting for mayor, on the other hand, is a small-scale task in comparison to positions like the presidency. The only people voting for the mayor are the eligible voters of a specific town or city. Because the population of voters is so small, the democratic process in regards to electing local officials is much more representative of the voice of the voters, meaning if the majority of voters were unhappy with an elected mayor, it would be relatively easy to vote them out.
Local elections have historically proved subject to corruption by dishonest political groups. While corruption, such as that perpetuated by political machines in 20th-century Chicago, remains a concern in local politics, imposing mayoral term limits does not remove the influence of corrupt groups and parties. Rather, it places a new figurehead at the helm of a local entity while keeping in place the same corrupt system. Thus, concerns about corruption are not solved through mayoral term limits, making its inclusion on the ballot ineffective as a way of curtailing misconduct.
Even disregarding the unlikely need for mayoral term limits, the timing and specifications of this petition make it problematic, as it is a clear attempt to simply keep the current incumbent from being elected again.
The ballot issue states that the limit would be three terms. Mayoral term limits are very uncommon in the U.S., with only nine percent of U.S. cities having them. However, cities that do impose limits typically place the restriction after four terms, not three.
By proposing an awkward, three-term limit for mayor conveniently at the same time as the current mayor’s third term is running out, it is clear that this amendment’s proposal is more about pushing the present mayor out of office than allowing unheard voices to be represented in Lincoln politics.
Because of the deceptive nature of this ballot issue, Lincoln residents who are unaware of the politics surrounding the push for term limits may vote in favor of the amendment believing the purpose of the initiative is to serve justice. If this issue is successful on the ballots in November, Beutler will be barred from participating, greatly decreasing the chances for any real competition against his main opponent, Cyndi Lamm.
This is clearly a partisan effort to circumvent the system to ensure a specific candidate is not even able to run for office.
Mayoral term limits may be an idea to take into consideration. However, with the malicious intent present in the way this issue is being brought to light, voting for this three-term limit amendment only serves to take away fairness of Lincoln’s democratic system by imposing an unnecessary new rule.
Before allowing partisan politics to drive out an incumbent mayor, voters should take the circumstances surrounding the presentation of this issue into account. Ultimately, this ballot issue aims to silence the voice of Lincoln’s voters instead of allowing the democratic process to take its natural course.
Voting for this three-term limit will not curtail corruption. It will only reinforce the idea that manipulating voters into getting a favorable outcome is acceptable.