This year for the first time, most candidates on the ballot for San Antonio city offices are not subject to the old term limits law.
San Antonio [once] had some of the nation’s strictest term limits for City Council — two 2-year terms and then a lifetime ban on service.
Voters in 2008 relaxed those limits after an aggressive campaign championed by then-Mayor Phil Hardberger. Council members and the mayor can now serve up to four two-year terms — one politician could serve eight years on the council and another eight as mayor.
How the new limits will affect the City Council remains to be seen. It appears, though, that the potential for longer tenures will lead to more continuity and institutional knowledge, and could draw more candidates who want to pursue long-term projects.
[Former City Council Member Kevin] Wolff said the grind of the restrictive term limits made it hard to get things accomplished.
“The reality is that for most folks, you spend your first year trying to figure out who’s on first and your second year doing something,” he said. “Then your next term, you’re a lame duck.”
Now with the prospect of eight years, the city’s leaders are eyeing more sweeping initiatives. Mayor Julián Castro, who is finishing his first term, said that he and the council can do a better job of establishing long-term projects in areas such as economic development, education, transportation and infrastructure improvements.
The possibility for longer service could also attract a higher caliber of candidate, said public relations consultant and former mayoral contender Trish DeBerry, who ran the campaign to relax term limits.
Henry Flores, a political scientist at St. Mary’s University, said the conventional wisdom when term limits were enacted in 1991 was that they were the solution to long incumbencies and entrenched politicians. But his analysis of 20 years of data, half from before the term limits were approved, shows that politicians were actually leaving office at a faster rate before the strict limits.
I’d love to see that data. I don’t think the same would be true for Houston, where the norm before our term limits law was for incumbents to serve a long time. The more interesting claim is DeBerry’s, though I don’t know what metric one could use to evaluate it. I suspect Mayor Castro is correct about the city trying to do more long-term projects, though we’ll see if that’s just something Mayor Castro wants to do. Maybe someday we’ll get to see if any of these things would be true here as well. Probably not someday soon, though.