Is it something in the water?
Arrogance of professional politicians is, of course, hardly uncommon, but Sarasota County brings it to a new level when it comes to the way county politicians have dealt with their county’s voter-approved term limits law.
In 1998, 68 percent of Sarasota voters approved a citizen initiative to limit the terms of county commissioners to eight years in office. As has occurred elsewhere, politicians brought the charter amendment to court and found a friendly local judge to shoot it down as unconstitutional. One would expect that the county would feel obligated to defend 68 percent of their voters by appealing the decision. But Commisisoner Jon Thaxton and the rest of the commission – the very body the term limits amendment applied to – voted not to appeal, citing the cost.
The cost! In a decade with surging property value and surging budgets, the big spending commissioners of Sarasota County suddenly became fiscal conservatives when faced with the prospect of having their terms limited by pesky citizens. The estimated cost of the appeal was $15,000.
Today, the charter amendment stands, but there is a footnote in the charter noting that the term limits language is not enforceable due to the court decision.
Meanwhile, in Broward County a similar story unfolded but with a far different ending. When local politicians tried to overturn the Broward County term limits law, the county went to bat for the 80 percent of voters that approved their term limits law. And guess what? The 4th District Court of Appeals in August confirmed unanimously that, yep, county term limits are indeed constitutional.
Politicians are appealing to the Supreme Court, where the term limits law is expected to be affirmed. When it is, Sarasota term limits will go into effect, finally.
So the Sarasota County commission has been busted by the 4th District Court of Appeals for their self-serving upending of all the hard work and the clear will of their citizens. But Commissioner Jon Thaxton is not done yet. He has announced he plans to run for his fourth term in spite of the voter-approved term limits amendment.
Thaxton is a poster child for term limits. There are several good reasons for term limits, but the primary one is that it mandates regular, competitive elections. As is typical, Thaxton has not faced a challenger since he first ran in 2000.
That's right, Jon Thaxton’s name has not appeared on a general election ballot for over a decade! Remember that the next time some politician pulls out the hoary old cliche "we already have term limits, they are called elections."
It is no wonder Thaxton voted against defending the people’s term limits law. He knows what all county commissioners know, that because of the advantages incumbents have, sitting commissioners rarely face serious challengers -- if they face any challengers at all. The county commissioner gig is a cozy one and he is all but guaranteed of keeping it, as long as there are no term limits.
His announcement means that other potential challengers are not entering the race or, if they are, they will not be able to raise the money they need for a competitive race. On his way out, Thaxton is throwing one more wrench into Sarasota democracy.
Isn’t it this kind of behavior that led 68 percent of Sarasota voters to approve term limits in the first place?