MINOT, N.D. — Tim Mahoney, the mayor of Fargo, wants another term.
The city's attorney, Erik Johnson, doesn't believe the city's charter allows it.
Mahoney was first elected mayor in 2015 by way of a special election following the death of former mayor Dennis Walaker. He was re-elected in 2018, and would like to be elected to another four-year term in 2022. Prior to his tenure as mayor, Mahoney served as a city commissioner. He was first elected in 2006, and then re-elected in 2010 and 2014, though he didn't finish that last term because he was elected mayor.
"According to the city charter, a person can only serve three successive terms on the Fargo City Commission as a commissioner and an additional fourth term if any of the terms are also served as mayor," Barry Amundson reports.
Johnson's read of Mahoney's admittedly complicated situation is that the incumbent can't seek another term as mayor in 2022.
Mahoney disagrees, arguing along with his legal counsel that he resigned from the commission in 2015 to be elected mayor, so his terms aren't successive.
I tend to agree with Mahoney's interpretation of the law, but the solution to this problem is simpler than any legal analysis could provide.
How about Fargo's city government allow Fargo's voters to decide whether they want Mahoney to have another term as mayor?
The problem with term limits, as a policy, is that they take decisions like this away from the voters.
Whatever you or I might think of Mahoney, a Democrat though his office is officially nonpartisan, is beside the point. He's popular with Fargo's voters. They've been consistently electing him to local office since 2006. The last time he was on the ballot, in 2018, he ran unopposed.
If voters want to elect him again in 2022, shouldn't they be allowed to?
Any widespread dissatisfaction with Mahoney's leadership could easily be expressed through the election process by rival candidates making their own case to the Fargo electorate.
Fargo should cut through this Gordian knot by amending their city charter to dispense with term limits. They're a policy idea that appeals to voters in a very superficial way, but in practice amounts to little more than a restriction on the will of the people.
It's also an idea we're about to have a protracted statewide debate about.
At the state level, a faction of disaffected Republicans called the Bastiat Caucus is pushing for a constitutional amendment to implement term limits for state lawmakers and the governor (and not, bizarrely enough, any other statewide elected official).
The chairman of the campaign, Minot-based activist Jared Hendrix, first came to North Dakota while working for one of former Texas Congressman Ron Paul's many quixotic campaigns for the presidency which he launched during his not-term-limited 37 years in the House of Representatives.
On Hendrix's sponsoring committee are three sitting Bastiat Caucus lawmakers — Rep. Rick Becker, Rep. Nathan Toman and Sen. Oley Larsen — who have already served longer than the eight-year limit the amendment would impose, though the years in office these hypocrites have already enjoyed are conveniently grandfathered in.
Never underestimate the ability of politicians to write the rules in such a way that they apply more to other people than themselves.
But I digress.
Fargo's situation demonstrates, precisely, why implementing term limits at the state level is a terrible idea. If we believe in concepts like the "will of the people" shouldn't that include the ability of the people to elect incumbents if they want to?
Even if that's an unwise choice, why should voters be protected from getting what they voted for?
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.