Editorial Views:

From Around the State

Here's one on which we all should be able to agree: Voters should be allowed to cast their ballots for any candidate who meets constitutional and legal requirements for the office he or she seeks.

Underage candidates? Disqualified. Noncitizens? Forget it. Felons? Outta there.

Everybody else? Throw your name on the ballot, campaign your heart out and see who votes for you.

Simple and logical enough. Not a bad way to run a democracy.

But some states don't run their democracies that way. They have added another category to the banned candidate list: folks who have proved their qualifications by having honorably and successfully actually done the job they seek.

It's called term limits, an idea that many people think has served the nation well when it comes to the White House. According to the National Governors Association, 37 states place term limits on their governors.

Texas is not one of them. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, in starting her GOP primary campaign against Gov. Rick Perry, is using her statewide kickoff tour to include a call for gubernatorial term limits.

"We need results, not politics," she says in her stump speech. "And that starts with term limits for Texas governor. For any governor, eight years is enough."

Hutchison says this because a central point of her campaign is that Perry, who got the job in 2000 when then-Gov. George W. Bush resigned to prepare to take the presidency, and has been elected twice since then, has been in office too long.

"We can't afford 14 years of one person appointing every state board agency and commission. It invites patronage. It tempts cronyism. And is has to stop now," Hutchison said.

To date, Texas has chosen to eschew gubernatorial limits. That's not to say Texans have chosen not to limit gubernatorial terms. In fact, for a while there, they were pretty good at it.

It wasn't until Bush was re-elected in 1998 that Texans gave a governor consecutive four-year terms. (Gubernatorial terms were two years until 1974.)

Here's the record: 1978, Gov. Dolph Briscoe, dumped in the Democratic Primary. 1982, Gov. Bill Clements, ousted by Mark White. 1986, White ousted by Clements. 1990, no incumbent, Ann Richards wins. 1994, Richards ousted by Bush.

Despite that history, Hutchison now says Texas needs gubernatorial term limits. We think voters should be able to decide whether Texas should have term limits for the governor's post.

Term limits might solve one problem (the power of incumbency) but could cause others (limiting voter choice, four years of a lame-duck governor with no need to be responsive to voters).

Like Hutchison, we're against patronage and cronyism that can be caused when a governor is in office too long. But patronage and cronyism can set in on Day One with some governors.

In some states — see Illinois — it seems to begin with taking of the oath of office.

Many states enforce a two-terms-and-you're-out limit on their governors. Virginia bars governors from succeeding themselves, though they can seek the job again after four years out of office.

One term is an interesting concept: Does it mean Virginia governors always are lame ducks immune to the fundraising and other pressures of running for re-election? Or does it mean that Virginia governors, from the time they take the oath of office, are immune to the wishes of the electorate?

The answer is the eye of the beholder. And chances are good the one-term limit has given Virginia, like all other states, some good governors and some bad governors.

Texas, you might have noted, has had some good governors and some bad governors. To date, we've let the voters pass judgment.

But Hutchison raises an interesting point.

We're generally not in favor of cluttering the ballot with all kinds of decisions that should be made by our lawmakers, but this one seems particularly well-suited for the ballot.

The 2011 Legislature should approve a proposed constitutional amendment limiting Texas governors to two terms. That action would put the issue on the ballot, where voters could decide whether they want to place such limits on their governors, as well as on themselves.

URL: http://www.statesman.com

—Austin American-Statesman