Eight Silly Hall years not enough to learn supes’ job 

The whole idea of district elections was to give relative no-names a chance to compete against entrenched politicians, a concept that has changed the face of government in San Francisco, and not for the better.

So it is a rather curious proposal being floated by one of those district stewards to change the city charter to extend the term limits of supervisors and give them more time to, you know, get the hang of it.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who until recently appeared to be one of the more level-headed members of our legislative branch, recently raised this notion under the guise of improving city government. His argument is that is that board members need another four years in office to understand the system’s "inner workings.’’

And to that I can only say — as the voters undoubtedly will — that if you need more than two years to understand the job you’ve been handed, then you’re not qualified to do it. In fact, if you need 12 years to discover how to write an ordinance or get a stop sign installed in a neighborhood, then your term should be shortened, not extended.

Term limits exist because voters tire of career politicians exerting too much influence in their constant thirst for power — and no one should know that better than Dufty, who served in the administration of Willie Brown, the spiritual godfather of term limits in California.

This thinly veiled power grab is the natural extension of the decision by the board last year to provide public financing for mayoral campaigns — a move that a majority of supervisors piously pronounced as a way to get "big money’’ out of elections. But the only real truth about that deal is that supervisors essentially passed a law to give themselves millions of dollars when their ambitions put them in the running to take San Francisco’s top political job.

It pays to remember that the drumbeat for dumping the current term limit package of two four-year terms for supervisors began shortly after Chris Daly won re-election last November, cementing the so-called "progressive’’ majority on the board. Does anybody really think there would be calls for terms to be increased if Rob Black had somehow defeated the incumbent? Rarely has such a bad idea been put forth under the guise of good government, not that that term should ever be used in San Francisco.

Term limits have created a sort of carnival atmosphere in Sacramento, with elected officials rushing from booth to booth, trying to extend their political lives. And it has resulted in the loss of some veteran leadership, much to the Golden State’s disadvantage.

But seeking public office should not be considered a sign-up for a lifetime job. That is why voters moved to push wheeler-dealers like Brown from the perch of power, and why, thanks to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, no president can serve more than two consecutive terms.

You think conservative Republicans wouldn’t have loved the opportunity to put their sainted father figure, Ronald Reagan, into the White House for a third term? And how about liberal Democrats, who joyfully would have wept at the possibility of Bill Clinton going for thehat trick in 2000 against Dubya instead of backing a stiff campaigner such as Al Gore?

And while supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton are doing their best to try to block the early surge of Barack Obama, think about what it would mean to the American political landscape if she actually were to win two terms. (In this corner we find her unelectable, but that’s another column.) If she were to win two terms it would mean that a Bush or a Clinton had ruled the White House for 28 consecutive years — and who thought this country doesn’t have royal families?

If you’re going to start tinkering with local term limits, why stop there? Two of our supervisors recently got elected with 2 percent of the citywide vote — meaning 98 percent of the voters in San Francisco did not cast ballots for them. That’s hardly the kind of representative government a big city needs. Perhaps someone ought to be pushing for a charter amendment that would transform some of the district seats into citywide spots. But that would require some of our supervisors to face the possibility they couldn’t win a citywide election — a realization that would drastically alter the outlook of the board.

If Dufty pushes his proposal, it would be no different than Gavin Newsom trying to get voter approval for a measure allowing the mayor to serve three terms — but only after he wins a second one in November.

I’m sure Willie Brown wouldn’t object — and wouldn’t there be some poetry in that?

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@examiner.com or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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