Without much fanfare, the Houston City Council agreed to the creation of a committee to study the often talked about issue of term limits. Currently, the Mayor, Controller, and City Council are elected for two years terms a maximum of three times. While the turnover does ensure fresh blood, critics have felt the short terms create a permanent fundraising cycle for the elected officials leaving them less time to govern. in addition, it takes a few years to get the hang of City Hall, and just when council members are figuring out how everything works, they have to move on.
Mayor Bill White says he believes in term limits, but thinks the concept can be tweaked a bit. Within the next 30 days, a panel will be appointed to study the issue. White says the panel should come out with recommendations by next June. If they agree on proposed changes (for example 4 year terms with a 12 year limit) then the issue could be brought before voters next November.
A little institutional knowledge wouldn’t hurt, because right now there are a lot of long time behind-the-scenes staffers running the real show.
I’d rather junk the whole thing, but three four-year terms isn’t a bad compromise. I will say this, if we really want to have competitive elections in this city – or this county, or this state – the way to do it is to level the campaign finance playing field. Some form of contribution limits – I like the idea of limiting the total that any individual or PAC can give to however many candidates they want in the course of a year – plus some form of public matching funds for small-dollar donations strikes me as the way to go, but I’m open to other ideas. When it’s possible for new candidates to get the resources they need even with the usual powers that be supporting the incumbents, that will do more to make government accountable than any term limits scheme you can conjure.