Last week came the news from Washington that term limits are being proposed by Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Francis Rooney: 6 years for the House and 12 years for the Senate. My first instinct is to applaud both men for proposing this, as all levels of government desperately need term limits to thwart career politicians, abuse of power, and arrogance; and to further true public service for only a season in life. However, the cynic in me wonders about the parameters around the proposal.
No bill capping service at 6 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate has a ghost of a chance to pass. Now if the time limit was 12-14 years in the House and 18 years in the Senate, it might have a chance. But I doubt it. Nevertheless, kudos to these two men for putting a bill, any bill, out there.
Where there is really a chance to get term limits passed is in Texas, due to our innate suspicion of government, concentration of power, and career politicians. We’ve acquired quite a few of those in the past few decades. It was on the goal line a few sessions back until a coalition of state legislators blocked it in the Texas House, after it had already passed 28-3 in the Texas Senate. Term limits involve a sensitive area where idealism and pragmatism have to wed, to gain at least half a loaf. Those who hold out for a whole loaf usually end up with no loaf.
What I mean by that is reasonable term limits have a chance, but overly short limits do not. A potential framework would be 12-14 total years of service in the legislature, 8 years in any one particular executive branch job, and 20 years of total service across all branches of government, whether service is judicial, legislative, or executive.
Term limits have a real chance in Texas — if championed by leaders with vision, grit and focus. Maybe someday they will be enacted.