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Experienced Hands Versus Fresh Faces. Term Limits Debated By Baltimore County Council

Lauren Watley, Baltimore County Government

Baltimore County Council members currently can serve for as long as they can be reelected. Council members debated Tuesday whether that should change. They were divided.

Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk, who is proposing that council members be limited to three four-year terms, said being a councilman should not be a career. He argued that incumbents have a huge advantage over challengers because they can easily raise $150,000 or more in campaign funds.

“That type of dynamic does not exist at all for challengers, period,” Quirk said. “Challengers have to scrape together to raise even five to ten thousand dollars. And for anybody to say that is not an unfair advantage I would just respectfully disagree.”

Quirk is in his third term. He said his first race in 2010 was competitive, but when he ran for reelection in 2014, he won nearly 62% of the vote.

“And then my third election, general election, I won by almost 68%,” Quirk said. “And so, do I think I could run again and win? Yes, I do.”

He has announced he will not seek a fourth term next year.

Quirk’s legislation requires amending the county’s charter, so voters would have to approve it. He needs at least five votes on the seven-member council to put it on the November 2022 ballot. It would take effect four years later.

Republican Councilman Todd Crandell, who is in his second term and said he plans to run for a third term next year, also supports term limits. He said 12 years is enough time for a council member to have an impact. Crandell said the power of incumbency is blocking new people with fresh ideas from having a shot at winning a council race.

“We have a lack of trust when people are entrenched in positions and aren’t willing to give them up,” Crandell said.

Democratic Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who is in her third term and opposes term limits, countered that limiting how long a legislator could serve means you would lose good people. She used Barbara Mikulski, who served 5 terms in the U.S. Senate, as an example.

Bevins said if voters don’t like an incumbent, they can vote them out.

“I think that elections are term limits,” Bevins said. “I think we’re not giving people enough credit for who they want to represent them.”

Bevins cited the 2014 county council election, when Democrat Julian Jones and Republican Wade Kach both defeated incumbents in their party’s primaries. Both Jones and Kach went on to win the general election then were reelected in 2018. In that year, six incumbents ran for reelection. All of them won.

Jones, now the council chairman, agreed with Bevins that term limits would rob Baltimore County of legislators with experience. Jones likened it to wanting someone who knows what they’re doing operating on you when you are having brain surgery.

“Somebody who I can close my eyes and take that anesthesia and feel comfortable that this is not their first time and that I’m not going to be under the knife when I hear somebody say, ‘uh oh,’” Jones said.

In a public hearing that followed the council’s debate, Garrett Zahner, executive director of the Maryland Federation of College Republicans, agreed that term limits would drain experience.

“Legislative experience, coalitions and relationships can only be built upon years of working with others towards shared political goals,” Zahner said.

The council is expected to vote on the issue March 1. Its fate is unclear.

With Bevins and Jones both opposing the legislation, Quirk needs the remaining council members’ support.

Democratic Councilman Izzy Patoka, for one, said he is undecided. Republican Councilmen David Marks and Wade Kach did not speak on the legislation during the meeting.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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