Think about the last time you started a new job.
How long did it take to figure out the payroll and expense forms?
To know what to do when your computer crashed?
To learn the names of all of your coworkers?
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Here’s our point: Starting a job isn’t easy, yet we expect many newly elected officials — including most mayors, California Assembly members and U.S. representatives — to become acclimated to a new workplace and to function as effective politicians within two years’ time.
(City council members and county supervisors, on the other hand, get four-year terms, as do state senators. And U.S. senators serve six-year terms.)
Here’s the kicker: Almost from the day they take office, two-year termers are gearing up for that next election just around the corner.
A 2013 article in The Economist with the engaging headline, “Throw the bums two more years,” put it this way:
“Two years is a ridiculously short period to master issues of domestic and foreign policy vital to the nation’s well-being. ... Members of the House have little time to study the budget or even to read bills they are asked to vote on. They are consumed with fund-raising targets for the next election moments after taking the oath of office.”
It’s nothing short of crazy ... and it’s hard on us, the voters, who are invariably left with bad cases of election fatigue by the time we stagger out of the polling booth.
For example: Didn’t we just go through an acrimonious congressional race pitting Salud Carbajal against Justin Fareed? And doesn’t it seem mere months ago that Jordan Cunningham was elected to the state Assembly and Heidi Harmon was voted in as mayor of San Luis Obispo?
Yet here we are, starting the cycle all over again, complete with another face-off between Carbajal and Fareed. Last time, their race wound up costing $5 million. What will it be 2018?
Is there anything we do to get off this merry-go-round?
A change at the federal level would require a constitutional amendment — fat chance of that happening.
(Fun fact: In his 1966 State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson advocated for an amendment lengthening the term of U.S. representatives to four years. It got nowhere.)
But it’s not so difficult at the local level; voters in some California cities already have extended terms for their mayors to four years.
We even have a shining example from our own county: In 2012, voters in Paso Robles extended the mayor’s term to four years by a healthy 16 percent margin.
The Paso council took the initiative to put the measure on the ballot.
“Frankly, I think two years is too short a term for any office because you’re spending 50 percent of your time on your campaign instead of representing your constituency,” Councilman Fred Strong said at the time.
This is an idea other local cities should jump on.
When you think about it, what’s really the point of electing a mayor for two years, while city council members serve four years? Is the job of mayor really that much different from a city council member’s?
It’s not. Mayors have more visibility and they’re in charge of running meetings, but they still have only one vote out of five.
And remember, if a mayor is messing up so badly that citizens can’t possibly put up with a full four years of his or her reign of terror, there’s always a different type of election to consider: A recall.
So how about it, San Luis Obispo? What say you, Pismo Beach, Atascadero, Morro Bay, Grover and Arroyo?
Shall we throw the mayors two more years?