To the Editor:
This past Tuesday, March 25, 2015, the Rules Committee of the Rockland County Legislature met. One of the topics up for discussion was a proposed resolution (sponsored by Legislators Carey and Jobson) to enact term limits for members of the legislature and the county executive. For the issue to move forward to a public hearing and a vote before the full legislature, the Rules Committee would have to first vote in favor of permitting the discussion to move to that level. The Rules Committee’s approval would only mean that the issue could be debated and discussed at a regular County Legislature meeting with all County Legislators present and not just those serving on the Rules Committee. Much to my dismay, the Rules Committee decided the issue was not worthy of going before the full legislature and the resolution was defeated in a 4-2 vote. There will be NO term limits for County Legislators and the County Executive as a result.
The decision NOT to present the idea of term limits before the full legislature was made by Chairman Wolfe along with Legislators Weider, Hood and Earl, who accounted for the four votes against the resolution. Legislator Carey and I were the only ones on the committee who felt the people are entitled to a forum where ALL the legislators voice their opinion and vote. I find it terribly disappointing that an issue that is clearly very important to the voters of Rockland County won’t even get the public hearing it deserves.
Before the discussion in the Rules Committee was drawn to a conclusion, I overheard one legislator ask another if he would want to step down and not run again. Another comment I heard was that “I like this job. I don’t want to run for another office.” My thought process as a public servant dictates that I shouldn’t be thinking about what is best and convenient for me, but rather how I can best serve the people.
I thought that the public should be aware of some other points that were brought out to rationalize NOT enacting term limits:
1. A legislator who was elected for their “last” term of office would become a “lame duck” legislator.
2. What would happen if all 17 legislators were NOT re-elected? How would that affect the running of the legislative branch of the government?
3. The people already have the power to limit a legislator’s terms by voting any given legislature out of office.
I spoke out to my colleagues on the Rules Committee and addressed those points one by one. I have recapped and expanded upon my responses here in this letter.
Regarding the term “lame duck ” legislator concern, I responded by saying that a legislator serving what would be their last term is still looking at 4 year period of time to advance their agenda and serve their constituents. Four years is a long period of time. The “lame duck” label insinuates that a legislator serving their last term would be ineffective. I reminded my fellow legislators that elected officials have a professional obligation to serve the people to their fullest capacity up until their last day in office. I pointed out that Legislator Murphy had announced he would not seek an additional term, yet you see him continue to work hard to serve his constituents. His influence and respect among his fellow legislators has not changed at all as a result of his decision to not run for re-election. The “lame duck” argument is simply not a valid reason to dismiss term limits.
As for the probability that ALL 17 legislators would be simultaneously voted out of office, let’s just say the odds of that actually happening are very slim. If that were to happen, it would be an indication that the legislature as a whole was not serving the people in any manner close to the satisfaction of the voters. Yes, it would be disruptive and challenging to have 17 brand new legislators, but that would be the choice of the people. You can’t argue against term limits by saying the power rightfully belongs to the people through the power of voting and then turn around and say that the same power is dangerous because the people might vote everyone out at once.
I believe the majority of Rockland County residents are in favor of term limits, but the Rules Committee obviously disagrees with me. Claiming the mechanism for term limits already exists through elections and then turning around and denying the issue to go to a full vote before the legislature seems a little disingenuous to me. The argument that elections negate the need for term limits also ignores some very significant realities in the way modern elections work.
Incumbents have an indisputable advantage in elections. Name recognition, party affiliation that aligns with voter demographics, campaign funding, access to resources and knowledge of the tricks of the trade in election laws and procedures are all potential advantages an incumbent will likely have in any given election. The deck is clearly stacked against new candidates. Term limits allow a good public servant enough time to come in and accomplish things before stepping down and allowing the electoral process to reset where two new candidates can seek election without the inherent challenges in facing an established incumbent.
The Westchester County Legislature and their County Executive approved term limits back in December of 2010 and I have not heard of any adverse effects of such legislation. Recently, the Clarkstown Town Board enacted term limits for elected officials in their town. I believe the Rockland County Legislature should look at those examples and at least put this proposed change before the full legislative body.
CHANGE is not a bad word. In order to deal with the challenges that face our County, fresh and innovative ideas are needed to bring the solutions we need to run this government more efficiently. The status quo has failed us. Not a day goes by that a resident of Rockland doesn’t say “I can’t afford to stay here” or “My child was just married, but can’t afford to purchase a home here because the taxes are too high”.
I felt the need to write this letter because I believe the people have a right to know the Rules Committee denied the rest of the legislators an opportunity to vote on this subject.
Last August I spoke before the Clarkstown Town Board and said the following: “Politics was never supposed to be a career. Term limits would bring in fresh, innovative ideas, and diversity in the offices, improving the quality of government.” I think that the majority of the people agree with me.
I urge the citizens of Rockland County to reach out to their Legislator and express their feelings on this topic. Any resident in Legislative District 5 is welcome to email me directly at HofsteiL@co.rockland.ny.us
Hopefully, we can impress upon the Rules Committee members that a wider discussion of term limits before the full County Legislature is desired by the public. I strongly believe the people of Rockland deserve that consideration.
Meanwhile, I am very grateful to my Democratic colleague Legislator Jay Hood for permitting this subject to be added to the committee agenda.
Rockland County Legislator