10:00 PM PST on Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

After knocking on doors for five months, John Smelser collected his 5,500th signature supporting term limits for Menifee council members Friday afternoon.

He stopped mid-driveway, checked off the address on his clipboard and modestly pumped his fist before walking to the next house.

“I think everyone should be term-limited. Right now they could be elected to four-year term after four-year term forever,” said Smelser, 67.

He wore a straw cowboy hat and corduroys as he canvassed a subdivision off Ridgemoor Road.

Regardless of reaching the 5,500 benchmark, Smelser plans to keep gathering signatures until March 12, his deadline to turn the petition in to the city clerk to get his proposal on the November ballot.

To succeed, his scrolls of autographs must contain at least 3,382 valid signatures from registered voters.

Smelser’s proposed changes would allow Menifee council members to serve two four-year terms and then require a two-year break before they could run again.

Smelser said he started circulating the petition in early October because he believes term limits guard against “career politicians” by creating a mandatory influx of new people and new ideas to government.

He said he was frustrated when the City Council almost put citywide vs. district elections back on the ballot last year — after 52 percent of voters selected district elections in June 2008.

Eighty three of California’s 478 cities have some form of council term limits. No Inland area cities have term limits except for the small desert town of Needles, along the California-Arizona border in eastern San Bernardino County.

Menifee council members said that given polls showing people’s falling confidence in government, they are not surprised at the support for Smelser’s petition.

There generally are two types of term-limit supporters, said Tracy Westen, chief executive officer for the Center of Governmental Studies and co-author of a book about term limits in the California Legislature.

“There are those who think government should be made up of citizens who are not corrupted by politics and remember their origins. And others say, ‘You wouldn’t pick a citizen to be a brain surgeon’ and think the more experienced, the better,” Westen said.

“But just because you want professionals doesn’t mean you want the same professionals for life.”

Mandatory breaks make it easier for new people to get elected, he said.

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