Term Limits on Elected Tribal Officials

On September 2, 2014, at the Isleta Tribal Council meeting, John Antonio, Superintendent for the Southern Pueblos Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, (BIA), gave an update about voter registration. During his report, Council member Josephine Padilla asked: “When would the constitutional amendments go into effect on term limits, if approved by the voters?”

There are two proposed amendments on the ballot that would place term limits on persons seeking public office.

Proposed Amendment #4 offers voters 3 options:

  • Option 1 would limit persons to serving only two (2) consecutive terms on the Isleta Tribal Council. 
  • Option 2 would limit persons to only serving three (3) consecutive terms on the Council.
  • Option 3 would be to reject Option 1 and Option 2. 

Proposed Amendment #5 offers voters three (3) options. 

  • Option 1 would limit a person to serving only two (2) consecutive terms as Governor.
  • Option 2 would limit a person to serving three (3) consecutive terms as Governor.
  • Option 3 would be to reject Option 1 and Option 2.

Pablo Padilla, the tribal attorney, responded to Council Member Josephine Padilla’s question. He said, the courts would have the final say.  But, my opinion is that the amendments would not apply retroactively for this upcoming election. In other words, Attorney Padilla felt that the amendments, if approved, could not apply to any of the persons currently on the Council that have already served two or three consecutive terms.

EDITORIAL COMMENT

The tribal attorney, Pablo Padilla, was careful to state that the courts would have the final say because a lawyer can only provide you with their “legal opinion” as to — how that lawyer believes a court will rule. Ultimately, it would be the Isleta Tribal Courts and then the Isleta Appellate Court that would have the final say — on the meaning of the Isleta Tribal Constitution.

Let’s assume that voters approve Option 1 and limit persons to serving only two (2) consecutive terms on the Council. So, the real question becomes: if term limits are approved, will anyone legally challenge a candidate who has already been in office for two (2) consecutive terms from seeking public office again.

For instance, several persons currently holding office on the Isleta Tribal Council already fall into the category of serving two (2) consecutive terms. Those persons include:

Joseph “Cougar” Lucero;
Barbara Sanchez;
Cynthia Jaramillo;
Fernando Abeita;
Larry Jaramillo; &
Josephine Padilla.

So, if any of these persons seek re-election onto the Council this upcoming term, any other candidate and possibly any tribal member could file a lawsuit requesting their disqualification as a candidate for the Tribal Council. Why? Because if voters approve term limits and a candidate has already been in office for two consecutive terms, then it is questionable whether that candidate may seek re-election.

However, several things must occur to find out whether term limits would apply in the upcoming election for new tribal officials.

  1. Voters must approve term limits;
  2. The BIA must approve the election results on the amendments BEFORE the election occurs for our new tribal officials;
  3. A candidate that has already served two (2) terms on the Council must seek re-election onto the Council this upcoming election; &
  4. Someone needs to legally challenge the candidate to have him or her disqualified from seeking re-election.

Until all of those things occur, no one really knows whether term limits will apply this upcoming election for candidates seeking re-election onto the Council.

Again, keep in mind, for purposes of discussion, my editorial assumes that voters approve term limits of two (2) consecutive terms.

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By Christopher Abeita

 

What are your thoughts?