A Republican-led petition drive to limit the Lincoln mayor to three terms is aimed at one person, Chris Beutler, because the Republicans can’t beat him in an mayoral election, said a number of Beutler supporters at a Sunday news conference.
This is the Republican Party’s plot to try to steal the mayoral election, said Kathleen Neary, a Lincoln attorney, at the news conference attended by more than 30 Beutler supporters, including many active Democrats.
“The Republicans have failed three times to beat Chris Beutler in a mayoral race," Neary said. "They know they can’t beat Chris Beutler in 2019 in a fair campaign. They are so desperate they are turning to political shenanigans.”
Normally, changes in term limits do not affect current officeholders. When the voters created term limits for state senators, the two-term limit was not retroactive, explained Earl Scudder, Lincoln attorney.
But this proposed term limit is retroactive, directly affecting Beutler's bid for re-election.
The names of several prominent Republicans are listed on the documents forming the Political Renewal Association, the petition campaign committee. Listed are J.L. Spray, Republican National committeeman; Robert Synhorst, former Republican Party executive director; and Faith White, Lancaster County Republican Party secretary.
The initiative petition, a proposed amendment to the city charter, would limit the Lincoln mayor to three consecutive four-year terms.
The issue would appear on the Nov. 6, 2018, ballot and, if successful, would mean Beutler could not run for a fourth term in next spring's city election.
Beutler has already announced he will run for a fourth term.
“If people want to vote on term limits, we welcome that discussion,” Neary said, while adding that the conversation should not be tied to this mayoral race and the vote should take place at the spring city election, and affect future elections, she said.
Seeking term limits that affect the current race “is misusing the initiative process to target one person,” she said.
Political parties are prohibited from sponsoring these kinds of petitions, said Scudder, who pointed to language in the state constitution that says ”all propositions submitted in pursuance hereof shall be submitted in a nonpartisan manner and without any indication or suggestion on the ballot that they have been approved or endorsed by any political party or organization.”
Though this petition isn’t tied to the party itself, "it has Republican Party written all over it,” Scudder said
This attempt is pretty blatant … to attack the current incumbent because they can’t beat him at the ballot box, said Scudder, who added he doesn’t think voters will support it.
But organizers of the petition drive say everyone involved has always believed in term limits, whether it is for the Legislature or for the governor.
Term limits at the state level harm Republicans because they dominate the Legislature and currently hold the governor’s office, said Matt Innis, a spokesman for the petition group.
"The question is, do we want people serving 16, 24, 30 years?" asked Innis, former chairman of the Lancaster County Republican Party.
The people will be able to decide this at the November election, he said.
The committee needs fewer than 4,000 signatures of registered voters, based on the requirement that a petition campaign must collect signatures equal to 5 percent of the number of people who voted in the last governor’s race in 2014.
The state Democratic Party weighed in on the issue with a news release calling Republicans cowards.
"This weak move is a blatant attempt to stop a successful and popular Democrat from being on the ballot and preventing Lincoln voters from having a choice in who they want as their mayor," said Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb.
“The city is doing very well,” said Doug Emery, former city councilman. “Apparently, there is no Republican who wants to run against that.”
Emery also pointed out that the Republican-led petition campaign does not seek term limits on city council members, which would affect councilman Jon Camp — who is serving his fifth term.
There are currently no term limits for either the Lincoln City Council or mayor. But there are two-term limits at the state level for both state senators and the governor.