December 17, 2002
So what have term limits accomplished?
Chron politics writer John Williams asks a simple question: "Can you list tangible evidence that Houston has benefited as the result of term limits that voters approved in 1991?" He asks several term limits proponents, and not too surprisingly, gets not much of an answer.
He does get some unintentional comedy gold from Clymer Wright, the bozo who came along at the right time to foist term limits on a gullible public:
"Of course, Dallas and San Antonio are better because they have two two-year terms and we have three two-year terms -- that's a joke, that's a joke," Wright laughed.
"I'm not interested in talking with the Chronicle anymore," he said. "You guys slant the news so much.
"Look, all you are doing is going around promoting the homosexual agenda, rail. You know, you have your agendas and you slant your news stories to support your editorial policy -- just the opposite of what any newspaper ought to do."
BWAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH [klunk]!
Sorry about that, my ass just fell off. Give me a moment here...
Okay, that's better. This was a more thoughtful answer:
[Barry Klein, head of the Houston Property Rights Association] referred to a Cato Institute study showing that term limits tend to reduce regional disparities created when a representative for one area has more seniority than another.
In Houston, Klein said, discourse about issues like tax reduction and property rights (read: no zoning and abbreviated historic preservation) has increased since 1991.
But Klein admitted he has difficulty finding a specific improvement or initiative in his hometown after a decade of term limits.
"It's a little hard to find good examples where candidates who ran for office announced good ideas and then actually come through with those ideas when they took office," Klein said.
I can't speak to the first point, though it sounds like a pretty thin reed to me. As to the second, the main action I've seen regarding zoning and historic preservation has been at the neighborhood association level. The zoning referendum was in 1993, and I can't say I've heard much about it since then. This is an awfully subjective evaluation (granted, it's a fairly subjective question) and I just don't see it the same way.
I think and have always thought that term limits are a dumb idea that do nothing but thwart the will of the people. Can anyone else suggest a concrete example of a good result stemming from Houston's term limits law? The comments await you.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 17, 2002 to Local politics
One good thing....Lee Brown can't run again!
Seriously though, I've always thought that Term Limits were a crazy scheme invented by people who otherwise couldn't win elections. Its pretty embarrassing that in supposedly the "greatest democracy on Earth" we can't trust our citizens enough to elect their own leaders without the help of term limits.
BTW -- Is it just me, or did the Term Limits section of the CONTRACT WITH AMERICA somehow get lost in in one of those cavernous Capitol Hill hallways?
Lee Brown doesn't count, since for sure he wasn't winning another term. Besides, there's no judgment to term limits.
I made the same statement about term limits to a Gingrich fan awhile back and was told that the CwA merely promised that its items would be brought to a vote in the House. I don't recall that particular vote, but I've done my best to blot out a lot of 1995.
How many members of the City Hall Six left office cause of term-limits. Yarbrough is one good reason.
He's about the only one.
I thought it was a lousy idea then and think it's a lousy one now, though, for the most part.
Reduced corruption generally is a good result of term limits, as is the minimization of the incumbency and seniority advantages. If that's no concrete enough, I'm sorry -- it's impossible to prove that certain things haven't occurred that otherwise would without term limits.
Houston term limits, however, are too stringent and thus have too many side effects. I would be for setting up two (maybe three) four year terms as opposed to the current system. However, this claim that term limits have no benefits is flat out wrong.
How exactly do term limits reduce corruption? If the problem is serving in political office for too long, then shouldn't the limits be on total service (in other words, limit everyone to x years as an elected official in any capacity)? How do you address the fact that the biggest scandal in recent memory around here was a bribery-for-votes scheme involving the City Council in 1995-96?
You judge incumbency and seniority as bad things. I don't, so I disagree that this is a benefit of term limits.
The main argument that I remember in favor of term limits was that it would make it easier for a broader class of people (i.e., non-professional politicians and people who aren't independently wealthy) to run for office. Has this happened? Will it happen under an alternate term limits scheme? I say no.
The 1995-96 sting is a very poor example. Those are public officials that had been there prior to term limits. Reyes, Yarbrough, and company are actually an argument in favor more than they are an argument against.
Tells self: no more talking politics... no more talking politics...
"How exactly do term limits reduce corruption? If the problem is serving in political office for too long, then shouldn't the limits be on total service (in other words, limit everyone to x years as an elected official in any capacity)?"
Some term limits do work exactly the way you describe, although forcing elected officials to break up their terms of sevice can also mitigate corruption. As I said before, I believe that Houston term limits could be structured better.
"How do you address the fact that the biggest scandal in recent memory around here was a bribery-for-votes scheme involving the City Council in 1995-96?"
I never claimed it would eliminate all corruption, and I would also note that term limits keep elected officials from remaining in office despite their corruption. One example I would cite is Eversole on the County Commissioner's Court. He's a vain and corrupt politican, yet he stays in office anyway.
"You judge incumbency and seniority as bad things. I don't, so I disagree that this is a benefit of term limits."
I'm not saying that they are bad things, I'm saying that they limit the choices of voters. Incumbency makes a politican entrenched -- it gives him name recognition and a record, while challengers may not have those luxuries. Seniority makes an incumbent politican more powerful, and thus voters may face a choice between a politican they don't really like and a challenger that seems ok but won't be able to get much done for their district.
I'm not proposing we eliminate either incumbency or seniority, but you have to admit that both of these limit true representative democracy. Term limits lessen their impact on elections and thus ensure competitiveness.
"The main argument that I remember in favor of term limits was that it would make it easier for a broader class of people (i.e., non-professional politicians and people who aren't independently wealthy) to run for office. Has this happened? Will it happen under an alternate term limits scheme? I say no."
I think it has happened to some degree. At the very least there have been more candidates rather than just the rote reelection of incumbents. But we can certainly disagree on whether or not term limits have really lived up to expectations.
Owen, those are fair points. It would be interesting, though, to go back and revisit some of the explicit claims that were being made by term limits advocates at the time and see how they stack up. It is telling that the best they could do was generalities.
IMHO, the main argument for term limits is in overcoming the advantages of incumbency, in particular the money advantage. (An incumbent with good results to show for his/her time in office deserves some advantage, just as an injured All Star athlete generally deserves his slot in the lineup back when he recovers.) I believe, though, that you can accomplish all of that with more transparency in political donations (which I've discussed before) and/or public financing of campaigns. It's not that term limits can't accomplish this, it's that I think it's not the best way to accomplish it.
And I have no sympathy for morons like this letter writer (see letter 2). If Clinton had been able to run in 2000, either he'd have won, in which case the people wanted him in office, or he'd have lost, in which case term limiting him would have been unnecessary. What would you bet this guy was chanting "Four more years!" in 1980?
Alex, you're right, though I seem to recall that at least one of the players involved was a newer officeholder. In any case, the SimDesk and Hobby Airport vending messes show that backscratching and favors are still with us.
The guy who wrote that Clinton was a reason to support term limits was being silly, of course, but I do see a strong point to presidential term limits following Franklin Roosevelt. FDR gathered virtually dictatorial power in some areas during his time in office, and that isn't healthy for a democracy even if the people like a given politican. A little rotation in presidents is definitely a good thing.
And yes, that even applies to Reagan.