The Lege does not need term limits

It’s a silly idea, and no time should be wasted on it.

Rep. Lyle Larson

State Rep. Lyle Larson has filed a proposal to let Texans vote on whether to limit to 12 years the time state officials may serve in one position.

“I’m a big believer that it’s good to have fresh blood and turnover in government,” said Larson, R-San Antonio. “I think it would be healthy to have new, fresh perspectives periodically.”


“Twelve years is a long time,” Larson said. “After that, we probably ought to get someone else in the office.”

Not everyone agrees.

“There’s no good that comes with term limits,” said Bill Miller, an Austin political consultant who works with Republicans and Democrats. “Term limits was a fad … that has proven to not work very well.

“It takes away competition … and destroys institutional knowledge,” he said. “I think term limits is one of the worst ideas in politics.”

Supporters say limits can help stimulate new approaches to solving government issues and prevent abuse of power from one person holding an office too long. Opponents say there’s no need for them because voters can remove someone from office in any election.

Larson filed House Joint Resolution 42 to put 12-year limits on all elected officials in government. If at least two-thirds of state legislators next year support the proposal, Texans would vote Nov. 5 on a constitutional amendment addressing term limits.

“I know some people say you don’t need term limits because you can vote people out of office,” Larson said. “But the reality is that most incumbents get re-elected unless they mess something up.”

I’ll stipulate that the top of Texas’ government is cluttered with people who need to move on, or be moved out, but the Lege is a different story. Here’s a complete list of all legislators who won elections in 2002, and would therefore be on their last term if Rep. Larson’s bill were already law. First, the Senate:

SD02 – Bob Deuell
SD04 – Tommy Williams
SD09 – Chris Harris
SD12 – Jane Nelson
SD13 – Rodney Ellis
SD15 – John Whitmire
SD16 – John Carona
SD20 – Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa
SD21 – Judith Zaffirini
SD23 – Royce West
SD24 – Troy Fraser
SD26 – Leticia Van De Putte
SD27 – Eddie Lucio, Jr.
SD28 – Robert Duncan
SD30 – Craig Estes

Fifteen Senators out of 31, or just less than half, would be on their way out after this session. Given that Senators only come up for a vote three times in a given decade, and given how safe their seats are, that’s a fair bit of turnover. Admittedly, most of it is voluntary – Kim Brimer, Frank Madla, and Jeff Wentworth are the only ones who lost elections during that time; the others retired or made successful (Todd Staples) or unsuccessful (Mike Jackson) runs at higher office. Still, that’s a decent bit of churn, and it’s nothing compared to the House. Here’s that full list:

HD02 – Dan Flynn
HD05 – Bryan Hughes
HD08 – Byron Cook
HD10 – Jim Pitts
HD13 – Lois Kolkhorst
HD21 – Allan Ritter
HD22 – Joe Deshotel
HD23 – Craig Eiland
HD30 – Geanie Morrison
HD31 – Ryan Guillen
HD37 – Rene Oliveira
HD42 – Richard Raymond
HD46 – Dawnna Dukes
HD49 – Elliott Naishtat
HD51 – Eddie Rodriguez
HD53 – Harvey Hilderbran
HD60 – Jim Keffer
HD61 – Phil King
HD64 – Myra Crownover
HD79 – Joe Pickett
HD82 – Tom Craddick
HD89 – Jodie Laubenberg
HD90 – Lon Burnam
HD99 – Charlie Geren
HD104 – Roberto Alonzo
HD105 – Linda Harper-Brown
HD108 – Dan Branch
HD109 – Helen Giddings
HD111 – Yvonne Davis
HD116 – Trey Martinez-Fischer
HD120 – Ruth Jones McClendon
HD123 – Mike Villarreal
HD124 – Jose Menendez
HD128 – Wayne Smith
HD129 – John Davis
HD132 – Bill Callegari
HD135 – Gary Elkins
HD139 – Sylvester Turner
HD141 – Senfronia Thompson
HD142 – Harold Dutton
HD147 – Garnet Coleman
HD148 – Jessica Farrar
HD150 – Debbie Riddle

Forty-three out of 150 members in the House would be facing term limits this time around. Putting it another way, 107 members, or 71.3%, are between their first and fifth terms. If that’s not a lot of fresh blood, I don’t know what would qualify. I estimate that 44 of the members who were elected in 2002 were subsequently defeated in either a primary or general election (Bill Zedler was defeated in 2008, then retook his seat in 2010), which again would seem to suggest there’s more to it than just the occasional screwup getting tossed. The rest left for the usual reasons – retirement, redistricting, higher office, problems with the law (Kino Flores) and in three cases, death (Glenda Dawson, Ed Kuempel, and Joe Moreno). Be that as it may, the number of fresh faces far exceeds that of the grizzled ones. Why do we need term limits when nature and the voters are doing a pretty darned good job of turnover by themselves?

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