In 2002, 70 percent of voters in Palm Beach County approved eight-year term limits for Palm Beach County commissioners. With that vote, the clock started ticking for all the sitting incumbents. Today, eight years later, the term limits go into full effect.
Under the voter-approved law, neither commissioner Karen Marcus nor Burt Aaronson are eligible to run again for the county commission unless they sit out a term first. Thus, they can run again in the future but not with all the advantages of incumbency.
Ironically, three other county commissioners who would have been term limited this year instead went to prison on corruption charges: Tony Masilotti, Warren Newell and Mary McCarty. A fourth, Jeff Koons, avoided prison by accepting a plea deal for his felony extortion charge.
The voters' clear call for term limits in Palm Beach County followed similar 70+ percent victories in Clay and Polk Counties in 2000, as well as a term limits retention vote in Tampa which won with 68 percent. A term limits referendum in Broward County -- currently under seige by a judge and a gaggle of local politicians -- passed by 80 percent in 2000.
The Palm Beach County referendum was the hard work of a cadre of over 150 volunteers and contributors who collected over 46,000 signatures of Palm Beach County voters, or 7 percent of the counties voters. To reach this total of valid signatures, they collected over 65,000 petitions in total and raised close to $65,000.
The last successful countywide petition drive previously was a business-backed effort in 1998 which spent over $225,000, about $330,000 in 2002 dollars, according to the Palm Beach Post at the time.
The difference between this ballot effort and so many others was that there was no special interest backing of term limits. This was a grass roots campaign of the sort rarely seen in today's big money politics.