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Texas House says ‘no’ to term limits on statewide offices

Posted Thursday, May. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The Texas House turned its back Wednesday on proposed term limits for governor and other statewide officeholders as more than half the Republicans bucked their party’s platform and voted against the measure.

Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said he was surprised by the 80-61 vote against his proposal and predicted that the opponents could face scorn from grassroots voters who have overwhelmingly called for term limits in opinion polls.

The measure would have given voters the final say in November. It would not have affected current officeholders, including Gov. Rick Perry, who is in his third four-year term and is the state’s longest-serving governor.

Larson told fellow House members that the Senate-passed proposal is not a referendum on Perry, who he said has “done a lot of great things for this state.”

Perry has been governor since December 2000, assuming office after his predecessor, George W. Bush, left to become president.

Perry is moving closer to an expected June decision on whether he will seek a fourth term in 2014. He might also make another run for president in 2016 after a disastrous bid for the 2012 Republican nomination.

Under the proposed constitutional amendment, voters in the Nov. 5 election would have decided whether to limit the governor and five other executive branch officials to two consecutive four-year terms.

The three members of the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry, would have been limited to two consecutive six-year terms.

As a proposed constitutional amendment, the measure would have gone directly to voters with House passage, bypassing the governor’s office and eliminating the possibility of a veto.

Perry opposes term limits, saying they prohibit voters from having a direct say in the performance of their elected officials. Some analysts said the decision will likely be viewed as a victory for the governor.

Former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison called for gubernatorial term limits during her unsuccessful primary challenge against Perry in 2010, saying the governor was “trying to stay too long.”

The proposed amendment, authored by Larson and Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, cleared the Senate 27-4 on March 19 and advanced to the House floor on a 7-3 vote by the House State Affairs Committee.

House members discussed the measure for less than 30 minutes, with no overt opposition. Larson said afterward that he had expected the proposal to pass but speculated that it might have been derailed by a late opposition campaign by outside conservative groups.

Larson said 56 of the 95 House Republicans joined 24 Democrats in opposing the measure. He said he found the GOP opposition particularly surprising since the state Republican platform endorses term limits.

“It’s in our Republican platform,” he said. “I guess these folks [who voted against it] aren’t listening to their constituents … because it’s pretty obvious that this is very popular in the general population.”

Larson said he learned after the vote that some members were worried that the proposal could lead to term limits on legislators. House members run for unlimited two-year terms, and senators serve four-year terms.

Larson said some members also told him that they viewed the measure as “a shot at the governor” despite his attempts to assure colleagues that it wasn’t.

Larson’s original proposal included term limits for the House and Senate, but he jettisoned that provision to improve the chances of passage.

Other statewide officeholders subject to the eight-year limit included the lieutenant governor, the comptroller, the agriculture commissioner and the land commissioner, all of whom are subject to election every four years. The secretary of state, the chief elections officer appointed by the governor, would have also been subject to the limit.

Larson said Tea Party groups have strongly embraced term limits over the past several years.

“It’s going to be interesting how a lot of these folks who are either Tea Party or Republicans are going to go back and explain to their base that they did not support term limits,” he said. “A lot of folks that I assumed that were going to be with me broke to the other side.”

Local vote is split

The Tarrant County delegation was divided over the proposal, with six members supporting it and five opposed, according to an unofficial tally from the House clerk’s office.

Republicans split 5-3 against it while all three Democrats voted for it.

Voting against the measure were Republicans Charlie Geren, Craig Goldman, Stephanie Klick and Matt Krause, all of Fort Worth, and Bill Zedler of Arlington.

Supporters were Republicans Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake, Diane Patrick of Arlington and Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, as well as Democrats Lon Burnam and Nicole Collier, both of Fort Worth, and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie.

Goldman said he became an opponent of term limits while working as a political consultant in Florida. Incumbents stuck voters with a big tax increase before leaving office because of term limits.

“There was no accountability to the voters whatsoever, so they knew they weren’t going to run again,” Goldman said. “I always want every single elected official accountable to the voters they represent.”

Turner said he had expected more Republicans to support the measure and “had no idea” why the bill failed.

“I don’t know what the argument is against having two four-year term limits on executive offices,” he said.

Larson, in urging colleagues to support the measure, cited a study showing that 80 percent of Texans support term limits and 93 percent believe voters should have the chance to decide.

He said the concept, which is in force in 36 states, brings “new ideas” to the political process as newcomers replace incumbents whose terms expire.

“All we’re doing is asking to have the opportunity to take it to the voters,” he said.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin Bureau chief. 512-739-4471 Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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