October 19, 2008
The term limit battle in San Antonio

There was a debate over the referendum to modify the term limits ordinance in San Antonio last week.

Voter turnout has fallen since term limits were enacted in San Antonio, as have the number of individuals who enter City Council and mayoral races.

That's the conclusion of Henry Flores, a political scientist from St. Mary's University who compared the eight local elections held since term limits passed in 1991 to the eight that came before limits were imposed.

Flores did the research in preparation for a live debate for Texas Public Radio over the Nov. 4 ballot measure that will ask voters to extend the city's current two two-year terms to four two-year terms.

Mayor Phil Hardberger, who is leading the charge to relax the limits, faced off against Bob Martin, president of the Homeowner Taxpayer Association, whose group opposes the measure.

Flores was invited, along with Express-News columnist Jaime Castillo, to bring context and historical perspective to the debate, which aired at noon and 7 p.m. Friday on KSTX-FM.

Voter turnout in the eight elections from 1977 through 1991 averaged 28 percent, he found. From 1993 through 2007, it dropped to 14 percent.

The number of individuals who ran for council seats in a given election also dropped, from an average of 46 per election to 35, while those running for mayor dropped from an average of 7.6 candidates down to 6.3.

"Incumbent success," or the ability of the incumbent to get re-elected, has been higher since term limits were enacted, Flores said, jumping from 73 percent to 87 percent.

Those findings seem to contradict some of the arguments against loosening term limits.

As the story indicates, the numbers aren't likely to matter too much. Either you like the idea of term limits or you don't, and the most motivated group will win. For what it's worth, I saw several billboards for the pro-reform side, and nothing for the antis. They've got some funding along with the backing of the popular Mayor Hardberger, so they've got a chance. San Antonio's a tough place to pass this kind of referendum, as the pro-fluoridization forces could tell you. But at least they have a shot.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 19, 2008 to Election 2008
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