Crusade for Term Limits Brings Together Unlikely Allies

Kathleen Thompson led an unsuccessful fight for term limits in Grapevine TX.
Kathleen Thompson led an unsuccessful fight for term limits in Grapevine TX.

For proponents of term limits in Texas — a group that defies partisan stereotyping — May has been a disappointing month on the state and local levels.

On May 11, voters in the North Texas city of Grapevine, whose mayor has been in office for most of the last four decades, bucked a trend in city elections and handily rejected a proposal to place limits on the mayor and City Council members.

Four days later, the Texas House voted down a resolution by state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, that would have asked voters to decide on a proposed limit of two consecutive terms for statewide officeholders.

The alliances that have formed are almost as notable as the results themselves.

In Grapevine, the term-limit effort was led by Kathleen Thompson, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2011, and Julie McCarty, the co-founder of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party.

Tim Reeves, a political consultant who aided the city’s similarly diverse anti-term-limit group, said the makeup of the opposing coalition was unique. “I’ve got to say, that’s a first for me,” he said.

For Thompson, support for term limits is a core belief. “I don’t think elected positions are a career or something to make money off of,” she said.

McCarty’s stance was more focused on Grapevine, where City Council members have an average tenure of nearly two decades. With the exception of a three-year hiatus from 1985 to 1988, William D. Tate has served as the city’s mayor for the last 40 years.

“It’s actually an issue that divides the Tea Party,” McCarty said. “But in Grapevine, we have such longevity. And given the advantage of the incumbents, it’s not a fair election anymore.”

Tate said that his longevity in office was the result of constituent satisfaction. “It’s the wrong city to have term limits when most everything is going right,” he said. “With limits, you can’t have a plan for your city that you build on, which we’ve done here.”

Mark Jones, the chairman of Rice University’s political science department, said the issue creates “cross-tensions” for members of both parties, in part because it is hard not to view such efforts as critiques of the current leadership.

Though many Tea Party-affiliated state representatives voted against term limits for statewide officeholders, one who voted for it was Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, whose district includes Grapevine.

“It is something that I believe is necessary, it is part of the Republican Party of Texas platform, and it is something that I promised I would support,” Capriglione wrote on his Facebook page after the vote.

Term limits are not mentioned in the Texas Democratic Party’s platform, but many Democrats supported the resolution in the House, and nearly as many opposed it.

“It’s the oldest saying, that politics makes for strange bedfellows,” said Reeves, the political consultant. “This is the case in point.”

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.