It has been eight weeks since voters in Prince George’s County did what they were expected to do in the primary elections – return familiar names and faces to their old seats despite their performance and deliverables to constituencies. Now elected officials want to do what was unthinkable just two election cycles ago and that is repeal term limits which for county council representatives and the county executive it means extending their terms of service from eight to 12 years. A lot of people are lining up to say enough is enough, but they fear big money and voter apathy will once again allow party leaders get their way. If they get their way – and there are a lot of folks hoping they don’t – it will likely be 2022 before new blood has a chance to lead the county.
Most people believe that the proposal is self-serving and an intermediate step to a full repeal of term limits in the county. However, opponents of the measure say if it’s good government that the council is after then they shouldn’t benefit if the law passes and they point out that studies show the longer elected officials stay in office, the more they become beholden to special interests and party bosses. That alone is enough to keep term limits to eight years or two four-year terms for county representatives and the county executive.
“Term limits are bad for the community because people become entrenched in their positions,” said former Glenarden Mayor Donjuan Williams and political consultant. “You stop listening to the people who put you in office and rather you start listening to people who can give you money to stay in office.”
While no more than 12% of registered voters deemed it important enough to vote, incumbents backed by an unprecedented amount of outside money and influence once again decided which elected officials would represent the county. As one vanquished challenge for the Maryland House of Delegates said, “Sadaam Hussein could win in this county as long as he was on an establishment ticket.”
There could be a bit of truth in that matter. The results show that Party Tickets matter. In fact the quasi official ballots put out by Party Leaders are also the beneficiary of an unlimited amount of cash that can move from one candidate to another while others are limited to $6,000.
In the race for State Senate, incumbents C. Anthony Muse (D-24), Ulysses Currie (D-25) and Joanne Benson (D-26) easily claimed victory despite widespread reports that they had fallen out of favor of their constituencies and were vulnerable. Muse was fiercely attacked by the unions who mounted a strong campaign against him while Currie barely escaped prison and continues to suffer from the notion that he is out of touch with voters. Benson, like Currie, is widely perceived as a puppet of State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.
Muse, Currie and Benson also pulled along with them to victory delegates and council members. In the case of Currie it was civic leader Darryl Barnes and for Benson it was attorney Erick Barron who replaced Darren Swain on the ticket. On the county council, Derrick Leon Davis (D-6) and Karen Toles (D-7) were the major beneficiaries of incumbency and support from the status quo. Former FOP President Vince Canales was easily defeated by establishment choice Todd Turner despite raising more than $100,000.
In fact, Davis was ill most of the race and did very little campaigning. Toles, who has had her share of legal problems, was fiercely attacked by the hospitality industry, but cruised to victory with a coalition built around the Labor, Fire and Police Union backed by a coalition of elderly voters led by Hillcrest Heights Association President Earl Gumbes and Suitland Civic Activist Elsie Jacobs. The truth is it has been 25 years since an incumbent lost an election on the Prince George’s County Council.
“The only way to beat an incumbent is to develop your own voter base,” said Maryland Business Clergy Co-Chair and veteran political operative Joe Gaskins. “You also have to raise money – lots of it. Even after that, it’s going to be tough, but it can be done. You have to have a grassroots appeal like Marion Barry.”