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In 1999, Congress, led by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), rejected the 1998 medical-marijuana initiative passed with the support of 75,536 D.C. voters. This week, the D.C. Council jumped over the Barr, repealing the 1994 term limits initiative, Initiative 49, passed by even more D.C. voters, 83,865 (62 percent).
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Initiative 49, which limited the mayor and D.C. councilmembers to two consecutive four-year terms, won more votes than all but two current councilmembers. It will not affect any incumbent until 2004, so the council is repealing it without any evidence that it is bad for the District.
At the council’s March 12 hearing on this bill, of more than 30 witnesses all but two opposed the legislation, either because they supported term limits in principle or because they wanted to respect D.C. voters. Some warned that the bill could harm the struggle for D.C. voting rights. Additionally, my advisory neighborhood commission and others, as well as neighborhood community associations, have passed resolutions against the bill.
Some councilmembers have lamely argued that the 1994 vote on the initiative was just a referendum on Mayor Marion S. Barry, then running for his fourth term (Loose Lips, 1/19). But Initiative 49 won every ward. At least 53,277 people, 63 percent of those who voted for term limits, also voted for Barry, who won. The council also has an opinion from its general counsel stating that Initiative 49 “may be a violation of the Home Rule Act,” but the opinion admits that only a court can say for sure. In any case, the council is avoiding both the courts and the voters, repealing term limits through regular legislation.
The council repealed term limits on the same day that it preliminarily approved a redistricting plananother advantage of incumbency and another conflict of interest. I hope the mayor rises above his own self-interest and vetoes the billand that the council sustains his veto. That would save us from the embarrassment of a veto by the outgoing control board or a move by Congressled by Barr?to save D.C. voters from their own council.