No limits: In Texas, officials can stay as long as voters will have them

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After 12 legislative sessions as an advocate for the disabled, it is safe to say Jennifer McPhail knows how to lobby Texas lawmakers. The ADAPT volunteer has spent countless hours maneuvering her electric wheelchair up and down the halls of the State Capitol.

"I think there's not a magic number,” McPhail said when asked about how long elected officials should serve. “I think that, if you have the right mindset, you can do a lot of really good things."

But how long is too long when it comes to state elected officials? They decide what happens to your taxes, your health care and your child's education. In Texas, they can also keep making those decisions over and over, because there are no term limits.

Term limits were never really an issue in the beginning. Up until voters approved the state’s current constitution in 1876, no one had served more than two two-year terms as governor, including Sam Houston. In fact, governors ended up only serving a maximum of two terms into the 1950s.

The Reconstruction constitution of 1869 did away with term limits. Voters amended the current constitution in the 1970s to increase a governor’s term to four years. That also goes for the office of lieutenant governor.

Last year, during his failed run for U.S. Senate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst promised to serve no more than two terms if elected to that seat. Now he is hoping for a fourth term as the state’s second in command.

"Right now, I've got a lot of unfinished work,” Dewhurst said. “I know that as the only traditional business person elected statewide out of 29 elected officials that it's hard to get to the top. It's hard to get to No.1, but it's harder to stay No.1. I'm determined to keep Texas No. 1."

Policy experts like Sherri Greenberg, former state lawmaker and director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, point out pros and cons to longer lengths in office.

"It takes people in elected office a while to learn the ropes. You want people there with experience who have the knowledge and the history,” Greenberg said.

Whether their terms are long or short, McPhail has some advice for state leaders.

"Don't lose your humanity to the process,” she said. “I think that's important to remember."

Dewhurst is among the longest serving lieutenant governors in Texas history, but Rick Perry takes the top spot for governor with a record 12 years, halfway through his third full term.

Perry has also served consecutively longer than any other current governor in the United States. Ranking highest:

Rick Perry, R-Texas (12 years) Dave Heineman, R-Nebraska (8 years) Mike Beebe, D-Arkansas (6 years) Butch Otter, R-Idaho (6 years) Martin O'Malley, D-Maryland (6 years) Deval Patrick, D-Massachusetts (6 years)

While Texas governors have no term limits, 36 other states do; 28 are consecutive, where officials serve the maximum, then leave - but are allowed to run again later on down the road.

In eight states, the term limit for governor is a lifetime limit.

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Texas (change)

Republican Rick Perry is Governor of Texas. Two Republicans represent Texas in the U.S. Senate, and Texas has 32 representatives in the U.S. House: 20 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
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Governor: Rick Perry
Lieutenant Governor: David Dewhurst
Attorney General: Greg Abbott

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