When it comes to increasing the number of years an incumbent mayor or City Council member can stay in office, Honolulu voters should consider the political realities in Hawaii and just say no.

In our Democrat-dominated political world, there is often no strong alternative to the incumbent, certainly not from the Hawaii GOP and frequently not even within the incumbent’s own party. In this year’s general election legislative races, which also are not bound by term limits, of the 65 seats up for grads, in 25 races the candidate is unopposed. Six Democrats have no Republican challenger.

Our congressional delegation enjoys similar security. Consider the 2nd Congressional District race, for example, where Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is running for a third term against a GOP nominee, Angela Aulani Kaaihue, whose repugnant rhetoric and racist views have seen her denounced by her own party.

With opponents like that, Gabbard could serve forever.

2015 Honolulu city council file photo. 2 jan 2015
Members of the Honolulu City Council, shown here in January 2015, would see their term limits expand under Amendment 15. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Now, at the city and county level, the mayor and City Council members are held to two terms of four years each. Only the county prosecuting attorney is not constrained by a limit on the number of years he can remain in office.

But a proposed change to the City and County of Honolulu charter, Amendment 15, seeks to increase the number of terms — three instead of two, so 12 years instead of eight — that the mayor and Council members could stay in office.

It also seeks to impose the same three-term limit on the county prosecutor.

But in its ambition to establish uniform term limits for local offices, the measure compounds rather than alleviates the problem of lengthy service from politicians who are effective at getting re-elected, but not much else.

Civil Beat has never endorsed candidates for public office, and our new status as a nonprofit organization legally forbids us from doing so.

But we have seen too many examples of elected officials who have stayed far past their expiration date, much to the detriment of those they purport to serve. Too often, they are able to parlay their service into electoral organizations so effective and campaign bank accounts so sizable, they discourage any meaningful challenge. Expanding limits to three consecutive would likely only encourage that, possibly leaving voters with even fewer good options for service in these key roles than they already have.

Perhaps the real target in Amendment 15 was meant to be the prosecuting attorney and imposing term limits on that office. Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro is currently running for a second consecutive full term (against political novice Anosh Yaqoob), and that’s on top of the two years Kaneshiro served from 2010 to 2012, and the seven years he held that position from 1989 to 1996.

Assuming his re-election next month, Kaneshiro will have held this job for 17 years by the time that term concludes in 2020 and would be able to seek four more.

The ability to run for county prosecutor is complicated by precise requirements for anyone seeking the job: The charter demands candidates have been “actively involved in criminal cases for at least three years” of the 10 years preceding the election, meaning even some experienced, senior attorneys don’t qualify.

But setting limits on the prosecutor’s service shouldn’t be mixed in with the more troubling notion of increasing the number of years that the mayor and council members can stay in office.

A better idea would be to reject Amendment 15 this year and urge the City Council to put a separate measure on the ballot two years from now that sets term limits for the prosecutor and possibly changes the requirements for the job so that a wider range of qualified candidates might be enticed to run.

Voters should leave the current two-term limits in place and take up the issue of the county prosecutor later.

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