While often dominant in football rivalries, Oklahoma is viewed as perpetually behind Texas in other areas. Legislative measures filed in Oklahoma are often based on Texas practices. Yet the state of Texas could soon duplicate Oklahoma in one important political reform: term limits.
Rick Perry, a Republican, is already Texas' longest-serving governor. He could run for another four-year term, potentially serving 18 years in office. A proposed ballot measure pending in the Texas legislature would allow voters to set a limit of two consecutive terms for all statewide elected officials. Supporters, who include Republicans, insist that Perry isn't being targeted, but the unprecedented length of Perry's tenure clearly has increased interest in limiting future officeholders' lock on power.
Texas Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, decries the proposal, saying Texans “already have term limits. It's called the ballot box.” That argument may sound familiar to Oklahomans, who often heard it from then-entrenched Democratic lawmakers when this state considered legislative term limits. The desire to preserve political power crosses party lines.
We've supported term limits, believing the positives outweigh the negatives. Although they hate to admit it, most politicians have a sell-by date. After several years in office, many run out of steam; inertia takes hold — if not stagnation. The loss of institutional knowledge created by term limits is usually more than offset by the infusion of new energy and new ideas.
Oklahoma has long limited gubernatorial service and was the first state to approve legislative term limits. Voters have more recently imposed limits on secondary statewide offices where incumbents had clung to power for years. Demand for rolling back term limits is virtually nonexistent.
We doubt Texas voters' attitudes differ markedly from Oklahomans' views on this issue. Term limits are popular. That's why, for once, Texas is playing catch-up with Oklahoma.