Term limits – 2009 edition

Term limits has returned as an issue in both city and state politics in Texas. In Houston, outgoing Mayor Bill White stirred a small storm with the suggestion that the limit of three, two-year terms put in place by Houston’s voters in 1991 is too restrictive. The comments section in the story in the Houston Chronicle revealed a great deal of angry disagreement.

Texas has been the source of a lot of noise on term limits for members of the U.S. Congress. Despite the noise the state does not have term limits. It’s very hard to reconcile the passion among the state’s conservatives for term limits with their embrace of Rick Perry’s campaign to extend an already record tenure in office. Apparently, anti-government voters feel that their own candidates can not be tainted by a decade of holding power.  Kay Bailey Hutchison has called for term limits for governor, she has already embraced and then abandoned term limits for Congress. She’s not alone. Congress has lots of former champions of term limits who have seen the light and decided to stay.

Kinky Friedman has summed up the case for term limits in memorable terms: “Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed regularly and for the same reasons.” Many citizens believe that their elected officials lose touch with average citizens when they stay in office too long.

There are a lot of good reasons to avoid term limits. Office holders with experience may be the best equipped to resist the pressures of the permanent bureaucracy and lobbying corps. If inexperience was such a great asset, the Houston Texans would already have their first Super Bowl ring.

There is no limit on how long you can work behind the scenes in Austin and just because someone is new to a particular office does not mean that they’re not already tainted by politics. Anyone who has looked at Texas history can tell you that corruption doesn’t take long to master. Effective governance does.

As always, beware of easy answers.

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