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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

Term limits for county commissioners are moving in the Florida Legislature

Leon
WFSU
/
WFSU
Leon County Courthouse

Bills that would impose term limits on county commissioners are moving in the Florida Legislature. Backers say the proposal would bring fresh blood into office, while opponents say voters would lose representatives who know their jobs.

The Legislature has an appetite for term limits. During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers imposed eight-year term limits on school board members, down from previous 12-year limits.

Now Republican state Senator Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill and Republican state Representative Michelle Salzman of Pensacola are carrying bills that would reduce the terms of county commissioners. 

Salzman’s bill started with 8-year limits and was amended to 12. Ingoglia’s would impose 8-year limits, which he says is consistent with most other elected officials. 

“We have it for the Cabinet, we have it for the governor, we have it for ourselves in the Senate and in the House,” he said. “We have term limits now for the school boards at eight years. And we constantly call for term limits for other governments, specifically Congress.” 

The thought behind all those initiatives is the same, Ingoglia says. When people have been in government too long… 

“…they stop listening to the needs of the people. So, term limits is a way to get – for the lack of a better term – fresh blood into the system, fresh ideas, new way to tackle age-old public problems. And it’s a way to keep our constitutional republic alive with ideas, fresh ideas.” 

The bill drew opposition from county officials. Here’s Commissioner John Meeks of Levy County: 

“Certainly, the people at home that I represent do not believe in term limits on local officials,” he said. “They believe in term limits on Congress. Congress constantly polls at less than a 50 percent approval rating, whereas local government polls at above a 75 percent approval rating. We do have term limits. They’re called elections.” 

Eleven counties that operate under charters already have eight- or 12-year term limits for commissioners, but most — including all rural counties — do not. Representatives of the Florida Association of Counties argued that voters in each county should decide whether they want term limits. Leon County Commissioner David O’Keefe says he doesn’t think those limits make sense for democracy.

“Citizens, if they choose to have representatives that do a good job, they should have the option to continue to have them do that job,” he said. 

He thinks the public agrees. 

“And so, if they get one in office, they should not be limited to two terms and then have to try and find a new one. It’s hard enough to find a diamond-in-the-rough public servant,” he said. “And I think that citizens – I trust them to decide, each election, out or in.” 

But for Bob White, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus, the proposal is one of the most important this session. 

“We have over 140 people that have traveled to Tallahassee for the next two days, along with many friends from Defend Florida as well, and this is on our legislative agenda as well,” he said. “I encourage you to support this bill. Pass it through to its next committee stop.” 

Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor was first elected in 1996. He says he’s never run without capable opposition. 

“And I think that when you have that, you’re pushing a commissioner to be their best, to keep serving hard and well because you make it almost competitive to know that if they don’t do good, somebody’s coming for them,” he said. “And I don’t want nobody coming for me.” 

Proctor also questions the motives of the lawmakers pushing for term limits. He says in Florida, county commissioners make much more than state legislators. 

“They want to term-limit me so that they can come and run for my seat. But they won’t come and run against me because they’ll get whipped. And I believe in my ability to whip anybody. And I believe most commissioners, in particular incumbents, believe in themselves,” he said. “And more often than not, data shows that incumbents typically win re-election. So, it’s just easier to dump ‘em out, make ‘em go out, than to come down there and challenge them out. They can’t win.” 

Salzman’s bill mandating 12-year term limits has passed two committees and faces one more. Ingoglia’s mandating eight-year term limits has passed one committee and faces two more.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.