Expanding term limits
Since 1991, the city of Houston has had term limits in place for municipal offices - three two-year terms for a given office: Council, whether district or at-large; Comptroller; Mayor. Since not long after 1991, there's been a push to modify this law, with a change to two four-year terms being the preferred alternative proposal. Now there's another possibility on the table.
A group of political insiders will decide soon whether to push for a measure on the November ballot that would allow Houston's mayor, controller and council members to stay in office two years longer than term limits now permit.
"We are leaning strongly toward going forward," said Bill King, managing partner at the law firm Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, which collects delinquent taxes and parking fines for the city.
King and other proponents of the plan would need to move quickly to gather more than 20,000 signatures by a deadline in late August.
They would propose that city officials be limited to four two-year terms and that former officials be allowed to run again after sitting out two terms.
The new limits would apply to current officeholders.
I suppose I should be happy to see any reasonable modification of our stupid term-limits law, but I'm having a hard time working up much enthusiasm for this. The effect of the law has mostly been to eliminate competitive elections for non-open seats (Bert Keller is the only officeholder I can think of who failed to win reelection, with Lee Brown in 2001 and Shelley Sekula Rodriguez Joyner Kersee Cougar Mellencamp Gibbs in 2003 being the only other truly challenged incumbents - help me out if there are others I'm not thinking of), so for all practical purposes everyone serves one six-year term. This would make it one eight-year term. What's the point?
I believe that term limits are wrong, a position I rather uncomfortably share with Tom DeLay and an increasing number of local Republicans, which is undoubtedly why this issue is starting to gain traction around here. I'll vote for this proposal, even though I think its effect will be to dampen any enthusiasm for obliterating term limits altogether, as it is nonetheless a step in the right direction. I just wish it were a bolder step.
Sidebar: How is it that someone managed to write an entire article about term limits in Houston without quoting Clymer Wright? Did he move or something?
Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 24, 2004 to Local politics
Exactly how is it that term limits have eliminated competitive races? I realize many aspirants choose to wait until term limits kick in instead of spending time and (lots of) money going against an incumbent. However, this is no worse than what happens absent limits.
IIRC, Harris County doesn't have term limits and I haven't seen a tremendous turnover at the Commissioner's level.
Exactly how is it that term limits have eliminated competitive races? I realize many aspirants choose to wait until term limits kick in instead of spending time and (lots of) money going against an incumbent.
It seems you just answered your own question, Charles.
However, this is no worse than what happens absent limits.
With all due respect, I don't think so. Absent limits, people who are inclined to wait must wait until the incumbent announces his/her retirement, an indefinite and potentially very long time. And if someone else decides not to wait and actually defeats the incumbent, the "waiter" has to start all over. With a relatively short term limit, the risk in waiting is much less.
Harris County doesn't have term limits and I haven't seen a tremendous turnover at the Commissioner's level.
There is another, more effective way to make elections more competitive. And if conservative Arizona can do it, surely Houston and Harris County can.