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How Often Should Offices Come Up For Election?

In the course of trading comments with Charles Kuffner about a Houston Community College District trustee who, as a conclusive matter of law, calls a warehouse his domicile, I pointed out that candidate eligibility issues like residence are generally settled by the voters, and that if the trustee is perceived as an outsider, his seat on the college district board becomes more attractive to other challengers. Mr. Kuffner pointed out that while the trustee might have been made more vulnerable because of questions about residence, the seat doesn’t go up for election again for another 5 years, because the trustees are elected to 6-year terms.

Once upon a time in Texas (between 1876 and 1894), in reaction to an unpopular Reconstruction government, the people of Texas specified that no term of public office could exceed two years. Tex. Const. Art. XVI, Sec. 30.

That decision may have been a bit hasty. Two years turned out to be a little too short as terms go, and so certain offices were given longer terms in the usual ad hoc, piecemeal way that typifies our comically long state constitution.

With the establishment of the Railroad Commission to handle the crisis of rail line placement, we got our first regulatory agency with seasoned commissioners holding six-year tenures. Then in 1912, public post-secondary educational institutions got approval to have boards whose members served six years, which is why Dave Wilson (who was elected in 2013) will serve on the Houston Community College District board until 2019. Tex. Const. Art. XVI, Sec. 30a.

Statewide and then local offices got longer terms, and in 1954, all the county offices got changed from two to four-year terms, in return for some concessions. Tex. Const. Art. XVI, Sec. 64.

In short, if one were paraphrasing our state constitution’s answer to the question, “What is the duration of a term of office?” the answer would read, “Two years, absolutely. Unless we say otherwise, Which we do. Often. So two years, or four years for some offices. Or six years. But never more than six years.”

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1 Comment

  1. offthekuff says:

    HCC Trustee is a fairly new office. I think the Board was created by the Legislature in the 80s; it’s a bit before my time in Houston, so I might be off a bit on that. Anyway, as I understand it, the six year terms were set because one of the first things the Board was going to have to do was levy a tax. Not being up for election for six years thus gave them some cover. Seemed like a good idea at the time, I’m sure.

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