In addition to the usual Federal races on Tuesday, there will be ballot questions for local voters. Here’s where I stand.
The first involves a proposed constitutional amendment permitting localities to exempt from real property taxes the surviving spouses of military members killed in action defending our country. I plan to vote “Yes.”
The second is an advisory referendum in Fairfax City which seeks the input of citizens on whether City Council members should serve a four-year term, instead of the current two-year term. I plan to vote “No.”
The first vote is self-explanatory (and optional to local governments). The second vote requires a little bit more explaining …
I live in Fairfax City and have been aware of its political traditions since my father first ran for City Council in 1972. I was elected to the Council myself in 1998 and made it through a re-election cycle (alas, unopposed).
Like most towns in Virginia, the Council members currently serve a two-year term by our charter — and have to run for re-election every other year. (ed note: I stated that also applied to most “small cities” but they vary. Other cities do have staggered terms so they are elections every two years) To the best of my memory, only two Council incumbents have been defeated since 1996. That’s a 96% re-election percentage.
That’s not an accident. The City is very stable and families tend to stick around or move back. When I was on the Council in 1998, five of the six members were Fairfax High School graduates — and four of us were there at the same time. That’s a wonderful thing, except that it tends to reinforce a certain inertia in local politics from having the same crowd in control of City Hall.
One of the other downsides is we don’t get the diversity of candidates that we should. I note that we have not had a minority candidate run for office in the City since the Sixties. (Yes, I said “candidate,” not elected official). For a City with a 40% minority population, we’ve got to do a better job in getting people involved.
Going to a four year term will cut in half the opportunity for new people to run for office. That’s not right. We need new voices, new experiences, and new faces.
Yes, there is an irony in having me raise this issue, since I’m probably the best (worst?) example of a family legacy in Fairfax City politics. I also have supported the current Council in their various elections and count them all as friends and colleagues. But we need to give other people a chance … whether or not they get in.
So I’m voting “No” on the referendum.