House Bill 775-A Term Limits Trojan Horse

The latest fruit of the Chronicle’s obsession with killing City of Houston term limits is Texas House Bill 775, introduced by Representative Garnet Coleman.

If HB775 passes in the state legislature, term limits for City of Houston elected officials is a cooked goose. All done through a sneak attack on Houston sovereignty by state legislators who have no dog in the local term limits hunt.

HB775 requires a November 2004 term limits election for only “a municipality with a population of 1.8 million or more”. Guess which is the only Texas municipality (city) with a population greater than 1.8 million?

If HB775 is passed by the Texas legislature, the anti-term limits side wins in November 2004, whether you vote for or against the proposal. HB775 is duplicitously worded to appear as promoting term limits, because the Chronicle and Mr. Coleman know full well that the majority of Houstonians favor term limits. Here is how the rigged HB775 will actually work.

The ballot wording for the November 2004 proposition is required by HB775 to read “Authorizing term limits on a person’s service on the governing body of the municipality”. Sounds good so far, right? You would vote for that, right?

Well, there is a catch if you vote “For”. Because the ballot will not tell you that HB775 states only that “If a majority of the votes received at the election favor the proposition, the number of cumulative terms a person may serve on the governing body may be limited by the municipal charter or an ordinance”. Note that it does not set any maximum number of terms, so it could still be a lifetime job.

Now which vehicle to set the number of terms is the easiest to achieve? A charter amendment, requiring a citizen petition of at least 20,000 authorized signatures (signature authenticity to be determined by the city)? Or an ordinance, created by the very elected officials who will be determining how long they themselves will be allowed to serve (perhaps a lifetime, but certainly nowhere near the current six years), which does not permit Houstonians to vote on it?

So even if you win, you lose. Because, in all likelihood, the elected officials, not the voters, will get to set their own (unlimited) “term limits”. That is downright deceitful and reeking of chicanery.

By the way, city council already has the right to vote out term limits. But you don’t see them trying to do so, because they now have to let Houstonians also vote on the issue before it can become law. And they know that to try to do away with term limits under the current legal procedural requirements would be political suicide. However, under the sneak attack HB775, council members could vote in any version they wish, including lifetime terms, without having to let Houstonians vote on it.

Of course, if the proposition fails you also lose, for HB775 states that “If less than a majority of the votes received at the election favor the proposition, the municipality may not impose term limits on the members of the governing body”.

If the Chronicle and Mr. Coleman want to abolish the current term limits, they should be required to do the same thing that ordinary citizens had to do when the charter was amended in 1992 to require term limits. That is, they should have to go out and get a petition signed by 20,000 qualified voters, and then let Houstonians vote on it. We very seriously doubt they could get the 20,000 qualified signatures, at least not very easily.

The Chronicle feels that requirement is ”undemocratic”. Get real. What could be more democratic?

What is undemocratic is HB775, which would let the numerous non-Houstonian state legislators dictate how Houstonians should run their city. The state constitution has strong reasons for letting home rule cities such as Houston manage their own affairs without outside interference.

Please contact the state senators and representatives and tell them to vote “No” on the deceitful HB775 and let Houstonians run their own affairs.

In the meantime, what is needed is a series of public debates between Mr. Clymer Wright and the Houston Chronicle. Mr. Wright spearheaded the grass roots efforts that obtained the 20,000 necessary petition signatures to get term limits on the ballot and then get it passed. The Chronicle editorial board seems to feel that it is the only repository of significant knowledge about term limits, so we suggest that the Chronicle debaters come from the editorial board.

Let the debates begin!

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