Vote for So-and-So; he needs a job

There are term limits on elected offices in a number of Texas cities. Most municipal offices are for two-year terms.

However, there are no term limits on county or state offices. And, on the federal level there is only one term-limited office. The President of the United States is limited to two terms (eight years) in office. No such restrictions are placed on members of Congress. Senators serve six years and U.S. representatives have two-year terms and can return to office as long as the voters approve.

Texas currently has a governor who is shooting for 14 years in office by seeking another fouryear term in 2010. All statewide officials and members of the Texas Senate serve four years while members of the House of Representatives must stand election every two years.

Regularly, Texas county officials serve until they die in office or until they are removed for cause in some criminal action. The term length for all of these county officials is four years.

Proponents and opponents of term limits can debate the issue for hours and hours and probably not change the mind of anyone who has strong feelings either way.

Those who are opposed to term limits say voters can limit an elected official's term at any point. If they do a good job, it is suggested, then they can keep their position. One argument term limits opponents put forth is that when you have inexperienced people in office, then long-term bureaucrats and lobbyists usually know better how to get things done.

They also argue that two-year terms in any elected position keeps the officeholder in a continuous campaign mode and unable to do an effective job. And, by re-electing a person to office, they are able to gain valuable experience that makes them a more effective official.

Term limits, say supporters of the concept, keeps ineffective career politicians from becoming entrenched and forces them to do a good job before the limits take effect.

One can also argue that the candidate's campaign treasury now dictates election and that the coffers are usually filled by big money interests. Unfortunately, that holds particularly true in any campaign from state representative to President.

In larger counties and cities in the state, money also plays a major role. While it is not such a factor in smaller towns and counties, never underestimate the influence of big money interests there as well.

But, there is something more basic about politicians becoming entrenched and it has rural roots. All too often both candidates and voters view an elected office as just another job. Then, the mantra becomes: "Let's vote Ol' So-and-So in because he needs the job."

We're reluctant to take the job away from someone who needs it. It is an association of government payroll with welfare. That, coupled with campaign donations, tends to perpetuate people in office whose accomplishments for the public are generally coincidental to their personal mission to be reelected.

We've all seen many Ol' Soand Sos in office who are there because they are poorly qualified to do anything. Yet, we elect them to make laws and provide government services to us voters taxpayers.

So, what's the answer on term limits?

After struggling with that issue for years, it seems that we the voters are the answer. We have to escape the idea that someone deser ves to keep the job just because they've had it for a while. That calls for more work than it seems most voters have been willing to do for decades. It requires each voter educating themselves on every issue in all elections, not just a couple of hot-button topics. It demands some answer to the catastrophe that campaign financing has become.

Overcoming the moneyed interests can be achieved if every voter is independent enough to make informed decisions on all issues and on every candidate from City Hall to the White House.

Then, we will have imposed term limits convincingly just as our founding fathers intended when they put forth the idea of citizen government.

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2009-10-29 digital edition

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