The Washington, D.C. Board of Elections ruled that D.C. residents may not vote to enact term limits for city officials April 3, effectively cancelling an upcoming ballot initiative that would limit D.C. councilmembers to two terms.
The initiative proposes changes to the contents of the Home Rule Act, which delegates legislative power to the District, making the initiative illegal, according to Rachel Coll, a representative from the D.C. Board of Elections general counsel.
In 1994, D.C. residents voted by a 62 percent majority to approve a similar ballot measure imposing term limits. The referendum was overturned seven years later by the Council, according to DCist.
The D.C. Council considered but ultimately did not pass a bill that would have established term limits in 2011, amid an ethics scandal that saw two councilmembers resign and two serve prison time for bribery and stealing public funds, according to DCist.
James Butler, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in the 2018 Democratic primary and as a write-in candidate during the general election, filed paperwork to start the proposed ballot initiative in January, according to DCist.
Butler said the Board of Elections should not rule out his initiative because a similar 1994 initiative on term limits was passed and approved by the council as well.
“It made it all the way to the ballot and became law, so I’m confused at why they’re saying now that what happened in 1994 was unlawful,” Butler said in an interview with The Hoya.
Butler’s unsuccessful candidacy against incumbent candidate Mayor Bowser (D) reminded him of the importance of his initiative.
“Challenging an incumbent really showed me that there are many advantages of incumbency that definitely, in my opinion, does not mean that the incumbent is more qualified than his or her opponents.” Butler said. “Almost every single incumbent was reelected. You have to ask yourself — does that mean that every single incumbent was doing a good job?”
Bowser and six incumbents won nominations for mayor and city council positions in the June 19 primary election. Bowser received 83 percent of the vote for the Democratic bid and faced no Republican opposition in the November re-election.
Over three dozen states impose term limits on governors, and 15 states currently impose term limits on legislators, according to U.S. Term Limits, a group that assists in enacting and promoting term limits in all levels of government.
No limitations currently exist on how long the D.C. mayor, attorney general or councilmembers can serve in any of these offices. If term limits were approved, they would not apply retroactively.
The initiative is especially important in light of the recent scandal involving long-serving Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Butler said.
“Most recently, Jack Evans has touted his influence as the longest-serving councilmember seeking outside employment, using emails from the DC Council,” Butler said. “I definitely believe he has raised some questions about incumbents staying in too long, and their terms not being limited.”
Evans, the longest-serving lawmaker in D.C., repeatedly used his government email account to solicit business deals from law firms that had lobbied the D.C. government, offering to help clients through his connections and influence as a public official.
Councilmember Evans’ office declined The Hoya’s request for comment.
Butler plans to take his initiative to the D.C. Superior Court this Friday.
“I will file for the Writ of Mandamus with the D.C. Superior Court on Friday in the morning. I think we’re going to win in the courts. We are ready to take it the Supreme Court if we need to,” Butler said.