State Level Term Limits

Bill Neinast

Who are David Bridges, Jay Brandon, and Katy Boatman?

What? You’ve never heard of them before?

Don’t worry.  I just ran across their names recently.  They are on the Republican Party ballot for the current primaries.

Each of them is a candidate for some esoteric court of appeals that only some practicing attorneys will recognize. Their names are just three among many in a fake ballot mailed by the Conservative Republicans of Texas with recommendations to not vote for them.

This is just an illustration of one of the many problems with our voting system.  First, and foremost, as has been mentioned here several times, we have far too many elections.

Second, we have far too many offices to be filled by elections.  

For example, there are candidates for 16 seats on various courts. It would be surprising if even one percent of the voters who cast ballots in this election knew anything about the candidates other than their names.

The situation is no better at the local level.  The state constitution requires only the counties to elect their administrative personnel.  Cities, which are generally larger in population and budgets than counties, hire or appoint and fire their treasurer, clerk, law enforcement officials, etc.

In the counties, however, the County Clerk,  County Treasurer, County Sheriff, and others must run for election by the public every four years.  Where is the logic in that setup?

Now look at the other side of this coin.  Some of the most important offices with nationwide and worldwide effects are not elected.  The Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security, who could be called the nation’s sheriff, and all the other administrators are appointees of the President.

Among those appointees are the nine justices of the Supreme Court, the most important court in the country.

The appointed members of the President’s Cabinet serve at the pleasure of the President, but the Supreme Court Justices and other federal judges may hold their offices as long as they like.

The administrative side of the federal government works very well under this limited electoral system.  Because of a mandatory term limit on the President, there is a smooth turnover of  administrators every four or eight years.

There is no apparent reason for not replicating that system at the Texas state and county levels.  If that were the system, the ballot you would be handed this year would be much shorter than the one you will have to wade through.

You would have to consider only who you prefer to be governor and lieutenant governor, U. S. senator and representative, state senator and representative, County Judge, County Commissiones, and County Court at Law Judge.  Such a limited ballot might encourage every voter to really become acquainted with the character and qualifications of every candidate and make an informed choice when he or she marks the ballot.

There would be no need for voters to know what members of the Railroad Commission (Railroad, what’s that?) do and who among the candidates to sit on that commission is really qualified for the job?  How many voters have even a hint of a clue as to which of the many lawyers seeking a seat on a court of appeals is best qualified for a judge’s seat?

Unfortunately, however, for such a system to work efficiently, there would have to be term limits like that imposed on the President.  Limiting the system to a small number of elected officials will be easier than imposing term limits on some of the offices.  Politicians would fight to their death in opposing any arbitrary limit on how long they could eat at the public trough.

So here’s the perspective.

The current electoral system in Texas is a mess.  It is impossible for any voter to be well informed about even a few of the multitude of candidates on the ballot.

Changing the state constitution to establish a system patterned on the federal model will be difficult, even if possible. 

A tentative first step in that direction, however, may be possible.   What if the Democrat and Republican parties informally agree to specific term limits for each office?

Then when an incumbent has been in office for the agreed upon term, his party will officially endorse and work for an opponent.

That might work if both parties were sincere in making such an agreement.

Let’s try it.


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