At three two-year-terms, Houston has the strictest term limits in the country. Before he left office, former Houston Mayor Bill White had council appoint a commission of prominent Houstonians that included Rice University Professor Bob Stein to examine term limits. It recommended changing the current structure to two four-year terms. In August, city council voted against the commission’s recommendation. Stein says the results of the KUHF-11 News survey seem to agree.
“Here you found that about fifty-one percent did not want to go to two four-year terms, about forty-two percent did, and about somewhere between six and seven percent were undecided.”
Stein says the numbers against longer term limits are a little stronger than they were in an earlier poll.
“We looked at Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and the numbers here are about the same. There is a little bit more support for the current term limit system among Republicans and conservatives, and a little bit more support for changing, but not an overwhelming. Maybe the most surprising is that after eighteen years of term limits, where we’ve had three two-year terms in the City of Houston, there’s still that much of a divide. You would have thought that voters would feel comfortable with the system by margins of more that 50-42, 50-45, but there’s still some concern here. What we find, for instance, is that African Americans, Hispanics and women (are) much more likely to support two four-year terms.”
Former Metro Board Chairman Arthur Schechter headed the term limits commission. He says he’s surprised by the findings of the KUHF-11 News survey.
“We proceeded to study the impact of term limits as they exist in other cities, on the issues that we thought might be better handled here if we changed the limits. We concluded at the end that it would be more efficient, better governance for a variety of reasons, to recommend a city charter provision to change our term limits from three two-year-terms to two four-year terms.”
Mayor pro-term Anne Clutterbuck says city council decided against putting the issue of changing term limits on the November ballot, citing more important issues to be put before voters.
“That was certainly the perspective of some of my colleagues. Others didn’t like the staggering of it, the way that it was being rolled out. Some didn’t like the idea of four-year terms. I myself voted against it because I liked the opportunity to vote thumbs up or thumbs down on the existing elected officials every two years.”
Bob Stein says he’s been conducting polling on term limits for over ten years and the numbers tell him that the composition of the electorate is changing.
“The effect of the electorate is getting smaller; it’s getting younger; it’s getting more non-Anglo and therefore, more susceptible to some changes, but the general sentiments among the groups have not changed.”
Clymer Wright lead the change to term limits back in 1991. He says the composition of elected representation has changed for the better.
“I’ve had lobbyists working down at the city all these years tell me in private that the caliber of people serving on the city council today is much better than it was before term limits, so I’d have to take that as pretty good sign also.”
PH: “Are you satisfied with the current system of three two-year-terms?”
Wright: “I certainly am. Politicians are always going to be trying to tinker with it in order to weaken it. They’re always wanting more security in office. These people know what the limits are when they run for office in the first place. If we didn’t have term limits, they wouldn’t have a chance to be elected.”
Tonight on 11 News at 10, Houstonians sound off on the job performance of Mayor Annise Parker and the latest polling numbers from the KUHF-11 News Survey.