Texas Needs Term Limits

I am not a proponent of term limits. As they say, I've got to figure that the best term limit is the ballot box, and campaign finance reform would be a better solution to the problem of incumbency than term limits. If you've got a good leader in office, there's no reason to turn her out - even if all her initial campaign ideas have run out, there's always room for management and crisis skills.

But every rule has its exception, and "Texas Monthly" political writer Paul Burka has got me convinced that Texas is the exception to the anti-term limit view. Robert Draper's much bally-hooed article in this weekend's New York Times Magazine has brought no small amount of attention to Texas Governor Rick Perry and his upcoming Republican primary with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. The article is well worth the read, but I was even more taken with Burka's most recent editorial in which he argues that, given the nature of the Texas Constitution, the only way to keep the Governor of Texas from running the state like a monarch is to cap the position at two four-year terms.

Legally speaking, the Governor of Texas is not a very strong position. The Governor can really only do two things: veto bills, and appoint the 4,000 members of the state's various boards and commissions. It is those boards, along with the state legislature (which is run by the Lt. Gov.), that do the real governing. Perry, however, has gained extra-legal power at the state level the same way his predecessor didn't do in Austin but did do at the national level: by taking it. Better to beg forgiveness later, the old cliché goes, then to ask permission first.

Most board members serve six-year terms. Perry, at nine years, is the longest serving Governor in Texas, and by now has appointed every single board member in the entire state. He demands extreme loyalty from his appointees and is not above LBJ-like bullying tactics if he doesn't get it. Burka examines those abuses of power:

His long tenure in office, now nearing the end of a record-setting nine years, has enabled him to establish what amounts to a cabinet style of government, in which he has the ability to direct state agencies. He has appointed every member of every state board and commission and makes it clear that he expects them to follow his lead. He has used executive orders to instruct high-ranking officials to do his bidding, as when he ordered the Health and Human Services commissioner to institute a program to vaccinate girls against the virus that causes cervical cancer before they entered the sixth grade. Another Perry order directed environmental officials to fast-track the permitting of coal-fired power plants. Normally the establishment of state policy is the province of the Legislature, but Perry does not observe the traditional boundaries...

His governorship has broken new ground in enhancing executive power. He expects his appointees to carry out his will. And if they don't? After Mark Griffin, a former Lubbock school board president whom Perry appointed to the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents in 2005, spoke favorably of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry's gubernatorial rival, earlier this year, he heard from Brian Newby, a former chief of staff for Perry. According to an account in the Austin American-Statesman, Newby told Griffin that the governor "expects loyalty out of his appointees and if you can't be loyal, it's probably not best to be on the team." Loyalty is one thing; fealty is another. The regents, not the governor, have the lawful responsibility of running their universities, but Griffin chose to resign.

Burka's solution? Term limiting future Texas Governors. And for once, I am inclined to agree.

There is a remedy for this situation: term limits for Texas governors. I offer it reluctantly. Term limits have not worked well at the local level in Texas, because the time that a public official is allowed to serve is often too short. Mayors and council members hardly have time to figure out what is going on before they become lame ducks. But governor is different. Eight years is a long time. No one complains that United States presidents are limited to eight years in office.

My advocacy of term limits is not personal. If implemented, they should not apply to Perry but should take effect after he has chosen to conclude his remarkable career. Perry himself is not the issue. It's the centralization of power that he has achieved. The ability for a governor to have complete control of every state agency--and what he might do with that power (the opportunity to build a political machine, the temptation to enrich one's friends, among more-benign possibilities)--ought to be a cause for concern.

In related news, you may have heard that Texas Democrats now have their dream candidate for Governor in Houston Mayor Bill White, who did an amazing job in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I just got back from Thanksgiving in Austin, and no one I talked to thought White had a chance, especially in what may be shaping up to be a Republican year nation-wide. Against Hutchinson, they're absolutely correct, but just four years after Perry won re-election with less than 40% of the vote, I don't care how bad the political tide gets for Democrats, you can't tell me a Perry-White race wouldn't be worth watching.

There's more...

ME-Sen: Senator Collins's Broken Pledge

In 1996 when campaigning for the US Senate, Susan Collins pledged that if she were elected, she'd only serve two terms. Up until now, there was only audio of Collins making that promise. But now video has emerged and it doesn't get any more unambiguous than this:

"I have pledged that if I am elected I will only serve two terms regardless of whether a term limits constitutional amendment passes or not."

Pesky YouTube (h/t Turn Maine Blue):

In 2002, during her Senate re-election campaign, Collins reaffirmed her pledge as you can see here in this letter to a constituent.

"I intend to serve only two terms as I indicated in the Sanfgord forum 6 years ago."

Yet here she is in 2008 running for a third term, having blatantly broken her promise to Maine voters. Turns out that whole term limits thing...just a "frenzy".

On October 12, 2006 Collins stated that she was breaking her pledge and would seek another six year term in the Senate. Collins justified her new position stating that her viewpoint on seniority has changed, "At the time, I thought that 12 years, that two terms, would be enough. This was at the height of what I would call the frenzy over term limits."

Susan Collins saying one thing and doing another is nothing new, of course. In fact, it's the central premise of her entire post-Bush tenure in the senate. She claims to be moderate yet over and over she's proven to be nothing more than a Bush rubber stamp, whether it be her approval of George Bush's anti-choice judges or her refusal to increase veterans' healthcare benefits in favor of preserving tax cuts for the rich. As Collins Watch makes clear, Maine does have a Republican Senator with a real claim to a moderate, independent label, but Susan Collins ain't it:

--Only one of Maine's senators has opposed setting an Iraq withdrawal timeline.

--Only one Maine senator supported President Bush's irresponsible 2003 tax cut package for the rich.

--Only one Maine senator voted for the habeas-shredding Military Commissions Act of 2006 and then against reinstating habeas corpus in a later bill.

[...]

Just how has Senator Collins pulled the wool over the eyes of Maine voters? The DSCC counts the ways:

Luckily for Maine, Rep. Tom Allen is running to replace Susan Collins and end her string of broken promises.

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The Clintons' End Run Around Term Limits?

After Franklin Roosevelt died in office in his fourth term, the US constitution was amended to limit each person to two elected terms of office as President. No one thought that Roosevelt was a bad President: but even he had overstayed. Were it not for this amendment, President Reagan would most likely have been elected to a third term; also possibly President Clinton.

Bill Clinton has found a way around the constitutional restriction.In effect, Hillary Clinton is running for Bill's third term. That is why she counts her years in the White House as part of her experience that qualifies her for the Presidency. Without that her resume is quite thin: only one full term in the US Senate and many years of lawyering for progressive causes would not make any one qualified for the Presidency.

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My endorsements - California

President - Barack Obama

I was supporting Edwards, but his campaign is dead in the water. Obama is about as conservative as Clinton on most points, and I'm a little concerned about his pandering to the religious set with "family values" rhetoric. He's voted for the Patriot Act. And his new "I'm the liberal Reagan" schtick is grandiose and annoying, to say the least of whitewashing the teflon corruption of the 1980s decade with the comparison (yes, I know he was talking policy). He wants to be Kennedy and Reagan. He doesn't want to be Nixon or Clinton. I'm concerned he'll be Carter and Ford.

He talks in generalizations, with very little in terms of real plans. His positions on a number of issues are stealth in nature and I'm concerned that his resistance to being pinned down to specific policy positions will amount to a Clintonian mush which does nobody any good. The "politics of consensus" to me evokes images of a decade ago with a presidency trying to be something for everybody.

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Two-Faced Susan: Susan Collins' Lies, Hypocrisy, and Allegiance to the GOP's Far Right Wing

(By the end of this post, you'll want to contribute heavily to Congressman Tom Allen's Senate campaign.  Keep the link handy.)

Susan Collins is approaching the conclusion of her second term as Maine's junior Senator, the seat she first won in 1996.  Her employment history prior to serving as a U.S. Senator includes twelve years on the staff of U.S. Senator William Cohen (R-ME), so she is no stranger to the machinations of representing the state of Maine in the U.S. Senate.

While Collins has presented herself as a moderate or centrist in order to maximize the breadth of her appeal to Maine voters, when one looks at the entirety of her record, what is evidenced is overwhelming double-talk and an undue allegiance to the far-right wing of the Republican Party and the current Bush administration.  It has become clear that Susan Collins is out of step with mainstream Maine voters and is far too comfortable being patently dishonest when it suits her political ends.

(Much, much, much more below the fold.)

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