Term limits could possibly put a swift end to Chris Beutler’s time as mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska.
On the November 2018 ballot, voters in the city will decide whether or not to add a three-term limit to the city charter. Beutler, having already served three terms, would not be able to run in next spring’s mayoral election if this change is passed.
Although the position of mayor is officially nonpartisan, many view the changes as a partisan attempt by right-leaning voters to remove a long-serving Democrat from office. However, despite the political motivations that likely spurred the initiative, term limits are a necessary provision for the position.
Term limits are important for change and retaining the cyclical nature of leadership roles. When new candidates run for mayor, they often provide solutions to the city’s most pressing issues. For example, Omaha’s current mayor Jean Stothert focused much of her campaign around a promise to fix roads. While this has had a positive impact on the city of Omaha, it remains her main platform, meaning other concerns for the city take a back seat.
In a similar way, Beutler has focused on Lincoln’s internet services in his previous terms. He has implemented a project called Lincoln Fiber to Home, which seeks to provide all of Lincoln with better internet and other services. In his reasonings for running once again in 2019, he mentions many accomplishments like this one, but remains vague in his promises for the future.
This is in part due to his time in the position. After three consecutive elections to the office, it stands to reason he would win a fourth. When an incumbent like himself feels confident in their re-election, they do not feel the need to put forth the same amount of effort a non-incumbent does, such as bold projects and plans for the city they seek to represent. While Beutler has done a lot for Lincoln, new faces in leadership would offer their own projects and ideas for the future.
It’s important for people of different backgrounds and perspectives to take part in leadership. After all, Lincoln has many diverse communities with varying backgrounds, beliefs and priorities. The figures in charge should reflect those communities. Adding term limits allows mayors with unique perspectives to come into office and bring new issues to light. This changing of priorities keeps cities moving forward and allows them to fulfill all their needs, not just the one or two that the current mayor deems most important.
After serving as mayor for eleven years, Beutler has a lot of name recognition as well as other advantages over other mayoral candidates. This is the case whenever an incumbent runs against non-incumbent candidates. On top of their prevalence, they have other advantages such as access to campaign funding, political connections and devoted staffers other candidates will likely be unable to compete with. These might not seem particularly useful in a campaign but have proven to be very valuable to winning legislative elections.
Incumbents seeking re-election in U.S. Congress have historically been more likely to win re-election. Even with low approval ratings, those in office tend to stay in office.
Beutler’s extended stint in office also keeps other Democrats from becoming mayor. While mayors don’t run based on party, it’s naive to think individuals don’t vote for mayors who side with their political beliefs. Due to Beutler’s success in past elections, many liberal voters who might not particularly like him may feel obligated to vote for him because he has such a clear advantage over any other left-leaning candidate.
Incumbency is a dangerous cycle that keeps the same people in positions of power, and sixteen years is simply too long for any individual to hold the same government position.
New voices deserve to be heard in Lincoln, and the only way to make this happen is by limiting the amount of terms mayors serve. This is not about kicking one person out of office, but rather about allowing new people in.
While the petition might have been started with suspect motivations, it is still a necessary change in our system.
Voters should seriously consider the consequences of allowing mayors to serve four or more terms. Even though Beutler has been a fantastic mayor, we should set up our system to reflect a changing and evolving city. This way members of the community can elect new leaders and continue to make positive progress.