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There's a Push for Term Limits in Austin, and It's Being Led by a Longtime Perry Ally

Right now, there's a push underway in the Texas legislature to impose term limits on the state's elected officials. A bill, filed by Representative Lyle Larson, a San Antonio Republican, is currently being mulled by a House committee. A similar proposal by Tyler Republican Kevin Eltife is being considered in the Senate.

Leading the push from outside the Capitol chambers is George Seay III, a Dallas investor with a history in Texas Republican politics (his grandfather was Bill Clements, who broke the Democratic stranglehold on the governor's office.) He just established a nonprofit, Texans for Term Limits, and is in the middle of a statewide media blitz to attract attention to the issue.

It's something he's passionate about, he says. The legislature should be made up of citizen lawmakers who serve for a time in the name of public service, then go back home to live under the laws they passed. "I just don't really believe in politics as a career," he says.

This is the same George Seay III, mind you, who handled the Texas fundraising operation for Rick Perry's failed presidential run and who contributed $25,000 toward his 2010 gubernatorial bid, which has made Perry the longest-serving governor in state history and cemented his status as the epitome of a career politician.

So one has to ask: Did the bromance sour?

"It's really just completely unrelated," Seay says. The Texans for Term Limits campaign isn't about any individual officeholder, "it's really just about good governance."

And Seay seems sincere in his belief that having a professional political class has a corrosive effect on democracy. One needn't look far, he notes, for examples of long-serving politicians becoming arrogant, abusing power, succumbing to corruption, or simply overstaying their usefulness.

He points to a 1991 speech delivered by Vaclav Havel, the dissident Czech poet who became the country's president following the end of communist rule. In it, Havel speaks of the lures of political power and of the human tendency to hang onto it.

The appeal of term limits is obvious, but they have critics. A 2011 study found that California's two-decade old term limits hadn't increased the diversity of the state legislature in terms of occupation but had led to a legislature packed with career politicians who opted to begin their career at the local level. In Michigan, researchers concluded that term limits have not delivered on promises of a more agile, accountable legislature but have drained it of valuable experience and led to a decrease in oversight of state agencies. But the research is divided.

Add to that the practical difficulty of enacting term limits in Texas. Many if not most of the 15 states that have enacted term limits have done so by popular referendum. That's not an option in Texas, which requires legislative approval before a constitutional amendment mandating term limits can go before voters.

That's where Seay comes in. He's hoping to generate enough outside momentum to force lawmakers to vote against their own apparent self-interest and place a cap on their political careers.

And public sentiment seems on his side. He cites a recent survey conducted by a D.C. research firm showing that 80 percent of registered voters in Texas support term limits. Whether its an issue they care about enough to push legislators on is another matter, but Seay is optimistic.

"Just about everybody on God's green earth is for this."


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