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Term Limits for Thee, But Not (In the End) For Me:
The USA Today has a report on seven House Republicans who ran in favor of term limits and swore that they would only serve a set number of Terms — only to realize, after they themselves had served those Terms, that term limits are actually a bad idea. All seven are breaking their pledges and running for reelection.

  I happen to agree that term limits are a bad idea, and I thought so even when it was out of fashion. But it's pretty pathetic to run on them when they help you and run aganst them when they hurt you. As John Miller puts it: "Each one of them exploited popular sentiment about term limits for personal gain; they are now becoming what they once railed against."

  Here is the list of the seven Representatives:

Barbara Cubin, Wyoming
Jeff Flake, Arizona
Gil Gutknecht, Minnesota
Timothy Johnson, Illinois
Frank LoBiondo, New Jersey
Mark Souder, Indiana
Zach Wamp, Tennessee

  According to USA Today, none of the seven faces serious opposition in their reelection campaigns.
Ron (mail):
Souder's excuse was that his district was redrawn after the 2000 Census (in which Indiana lost a seat), which he claimed restarted the clock on his pledge. It will be interesting to see if he runs again in 2008; if not, perhaps he is only half a hypocrite.
4.13.2006 2:42pm
scarhill:
There was a controversy here in Massachusetts a few years back when Democrat Rep. Marty Meehan backed out of a similar pledge. He was reelected anyway. I wonder why USA Today didn't see fit to mention that.

Jim
4.13.2006 2:44pm
keith_hilzendeger:
According to Wikipedia, Jeff Flake's predecessor in office, Matt Salmon, resigned at the end of a self-imposed term limit. Maybe the voters believed Flake would honor such a promise, too.
4.13.2006 2:48pm
alkali (mail) (www):
There was a controversy here in Massachusetts a few years back when Democrat Rep. Marty Meehan backed out of a similar pledge. ... I wonder why USA Today didn't see fit to mention that.

Because the list in USA Today purports to be a list of the Congressmen who are breaking their pledges by running this year, not a comprehensive list of everyone who has ever broken such a pledge at any time.
4.13.2006 2:55pm
El Capitan (mail):
In fairness, another way of putting it is that these term-limits supporters realized that term limits are an especially bad idea when they aren't applied uniformly.

Having worked for Souder back in the day, I'm a bit disappointed by that argument. He's very conservative, but usually pretty intellectually honest (see votes against 2 of 4 articles of impeachment against Clinton). His was a 12-year pledge, so under that analysis, his term-limits pledge never expires, since districts are redrawn every 10 years.
4.13.2006 3:15pm
CJColucci (mail):
alkali: Do you really think anyone who asks such questions will buy such an explanation?
4.13.2006 3:21pm
none_:
Ric Keller, Florida
4.13.2006 3:38pm
Gordo:

According to USA Today, none of the seven faces serious opposition in their reelection campaigns.


Perhaps partisan gerrymandering has something to do with their safety.
4.13.2006 3:39pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Politically, it's an easy thing, hypocrisy.
4.13.2006 3:49pm
Fishbane (mail):
If Gerrymandering resets the clock, do zipcode and telephone prefix changes do the same?

More seriously, I'm not exactly a term limit fan, but I do think more citizen-politicians (as opposed to career politicians) would be a good thing. Having a professional legislative class, on the whole, seems to be a big driver of many of the evils we as a country face (corruption, the industry-lobby-congress loop, citizen apathy, hero worship).

That may be a naive view, but at least disrupting the tendancy appeals to my libertarian instincts.
4.13.2006 3:50pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
So politicians lie, whats the news story?
4.13.2006 3:50pm
Houston Lawyer:
I think term limits are great if they apply to everyone. The longer an individual stays in office, the more beholden to the system he becomes. The most satisying thing about term limits is that they apply to your entrenched opponents and people you don't get to otherwise vote against.

Each of the named individuals is blatantly guilty of violating a campaign promise. Wow, that actually happens!!!

My congressional representative is Sheila Jackson Lee. Since she's relatively young, the only way I'm going to get a new one is to move out of her district.
4.13.2006 4:07pm
Fingerprint File (mail):

His was a 12-year pledge, so under that analysis, his term-limits pledge never expires, since districts are redrawn every 10 years.


I could learn a lot from this guy.
4.13.2006 4:11pm
Wintermute (mail) (www):
I happen to think term limits are a great idea regardless of fashion.

The TN SC just upheld them in its largest county, where 75% of the electorate voted for them in a referendum.
4.13.2006 4:33pm
Stephen Quist (mail):
Here in Colorado several years back, '94 or 96, two Congressmen were elected after taking a term limit pledge of 6 years. Bob Schaffer kept his pledge, Tom Tancredo did not. I figure if the voters want term limits, all they have to do is vote the SOB out of office, even if it hurts to vote for the other party.
4.13.2006 4:36pm
Gordo:
So in addition to being a know-nothing, Tancredo is a hypocritical liar too?
4.13.2006 4:39pm
Some Guy (mail):
Feh. And how many stood by their pledges? I guess to an unserious partisan, such as yourself, it's much more fun to point out the handful of hypocrites who refused to stand by their pledge than the dozens who actually left according to schedule.

Say, I've got a funny question. How many Democrats have voluntarily term-limited themselves, Mr. Kerr?

That's what I thought.
4.13.2006 4:40pm
tdsj:
Maybe a federal prosecutor will get crazy and file some "honest services" charges under section 1346? That would be fun!
4.13.2006 4:40pm
A.S.:
I think term limits are a good idea, but only if they apply to all Members of Congress, not to just a few members who apply limits to themselves. (Remember when the Democrats were proposing campaign finance reform but refusing to live by their proposed limits? They weren't hypocrites - they thought, correctly, that they shouldn't have to abide by the limits until the law passed and everyone had to abide by limits. Same here.)
4.13.2006 4:52pm
42usc1983 (mail):
How many Democrats have voluntarily term-limited themselves

I love the spin. The issue isn't whether term limits - voluntary or involuntary - are a good thing. The issue is whether someone lied. Lying about whether you're going to retire after serving some fixed terms is, well, a lie. A lie is a lie is a lie, whether it concerns "no new taxes," "term limits," or "sexual relations."
4.13.2006 5:19pm
Hovsep Joseph (mail) (www):
The number of Representatives who are breaking promises not to seek reelection exceeds those seven. The Contract with America, which every non-incumbent Republican Congressional candidate signed in 1994, specifically called for 12-year term limits. Twenty-five of those GOP freshman Reps are still in the House and running in 2006 and five GOP freshmen Senators signed the Contract and are running in 2006 (DeWine, Kyl, Santorum, Snowe, Thomas). Source.
4.13.2006 5:24pm
frankcross (mail):
Some Guy, why don't you give us the names of the dozens who left according to schedule?

That's what I thought.
4.13.2006 5:26pm
Hovsep Joseph (mail) (www):

Feh. And how many stood by their pledges? I guess to an unserious partisan, such as yourself, it's much more fun to point out the handful of hypocrites who refused to stand by their pledge than the dozens who actually left according to schedule.

First, Professor Kerr is an unserious partisan? Are you kidding? Second, in answer to your query, there were 30 freshman Republican House members in 1994 who signed the Contract with America. 25 are running in 2006 in violation of the tenth plank of the Contract.

How many Democrats have voluntarily term-limited themselves, Mr. Kerr?

Democrats are less likely to voluntarily term-limit themselves because they are less likely to believe in term limits as good policy. This is an issue that was so important to Republicans that they put it in their top-ten list of policy goals. If you want to criticise the Democrats for not following through on pledges, you should look for a policy they actually have pledged support for.
4.13.2006 5:43pm
Ray (mail):
I'd be willing to cut Flake some slack. One can look at his over all record and see that he's not in for some kind of power grab, or ladder climb. By traditional Republican standards, he's very libertarian (even did a stint at the Goldwater Institute) and is often found as the only one voting with Paul from Texas.

He most likely took a note from an Arizona predecessor; Matt Salmon. He ran on term limits, lived up to them, lost his bid for governor, and now no one knows his name (except other politicians - I think he's a lobbyist now) nor do they care that he lived up to his term limit promise.
4.13.2006 6:20pm
PJ:
Calling it "pretty pathetic" seems like a vast over-simplification. It presumes that these people were all disingenuous in initially supporting term limits. Some of them may have been, but this is hardly evidence of that. Most people who supported term limits in the mid-90's also don't think it's a good idea any longerr. So, these people didn't have the good sense of Orin Kerr, does that make them hypocrites or liars? Only as much as any one else who once believed term limits were a good idea but do so no longer.

This certainly seems worse because they directly benefit from the change of mind. But if their argument is that their constituents benefit more from them breaking the pledge, and their constituents agree by re-electing them, then assuming bad motives seems unwarrented.
4.13.2006 6:25pm
A.S.:
The Contract with America, which every non-incumbent Republican Congressional candidate signed in 1994, specifically called for 12-year term limits. Twenty-five of those GOP freshman Reps are still in the House and running in 2006 and five GOP freshmen Senators signed the Contract and are running in 2006 (DeWine, Kyl, Santorum, Snowe, Thomas).

Misleading in the extreme.

The Contract with America included, as one of its planks, a term-limit amendment to the Constitution. The representatives who signed the Contract promised to vote for the amendment, not to voluntarily step down in the absence of a legal requirement applicable to all members. It is exactly the difference I point out above with respect to campaign finance reform - Democrats promised to vote for CFR, not to apply the restrictions to themselves prior to the bill being passed.

Sheesh. One expects Democrats to make hay from the broken promises, but the least they could do is to do so honestly.
4.13.2006 6:25pm
Cold Warrior:
A.S., you're right ... technically.

We'd have to look back through all the accumulated campaign speeches of the Dirty Seven to determine whether any of them personally promised not to serve more than 3 terms, even if a term limits amendment failed to become law.

Of course, Tom Tancredo -- 2 years later, in 1996 -- made exactly that promise: I will not seek more than 3 terms in office. He then proceeded to break his promise because, well, the American people need him to fulfill his important mission. Stephen Quist (above) is correct: Congressman Bob Schaeffer kept the same promise. His reward: he was marginalized by the Republican Party in Colorado because by keeping his promise he opened the door to a very competitive race in his old district.
4.13.2006 6:38pm
Cold Warrior:
Some Guy said:


How many Democrats have voluntarily term-limited themselves, Mr. Kerr?


Yes, of course. It is far more honorable to make a promise and then break it than to never make a promise at all.

I think that's why that Christian men's group is called the Promise Makers. Oops, I got that wrong. It's the Promise Keepers.
4.13.2006 6:42pm
OrinKerr:
PJ writes:


Calling it "pretty pathetic" seems like a vast over-simplification. It presumes that these people were all disingenuous in initially supporting term limits.


To be clear, I make no such presumption. I'm not claiming that any indivdiuals were disingenuous or claiming any bad motives in making the pledge, as I don't have any information about them and their actual intents.
4.13.2006 6:44pm
Cornellian (mail):
Souder's excuse was that his district was redrawn after the 2000 Census (in which Indiana lost a seat), which he claimed restarted the clock on his pledge. It will be interesting to see if he runs again in 2008; if not, perhaps he is only half a hypocrite.

Yeah, there's been a huge turnover in my district too, what with people moving out, dying, new people moving in etc. so there are lots of new people here. I therefore renege on my pledge to stand only for 3 terms, as I wouldn't want to deprive any of these new people of the benefits of being represented by me for a full 6 years.

Personally, I think term limits are a dumb idea, and we wouldn't even have to debate them if we'd fix the real problem, which is gerrymandering. Nevertheless, if you promise to step down after 3 terms, then don't, you're a legitimate target of criticism.
4.13.2006 6:49pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
First, Professor Kerr is an unserious partisan? Are you kidding? Second, in answer to your query, there were 30 freshman Republican House members in 1994 who signed the Contract with America. 25 are running in 2006 in violation of the tenth plank of the Contract.


Except of course they promised no such thing. If you bothered to actually read the Contract with America, you would see that each signator promised to allow a "full and open debate" on Congressional term limits and a "clear and fair vote" on the issue within the first 100 days of the 104th Congress (which was done). No member actually (at least not in the Contract with America) promised that they would support term limits, only that they would allow it to actually up come up for a vote unlike their Democratic predecessors.
4.13.2006 6:54pm
lee (mail):
I was opposed to term-limits but had I realized it would rid us of Mark Souder(drug warriors' delight)I would have supported it fervently.
4.13.2006 7:00pm
eddie (mail):
It is always interesting to listen to those who espouse a moral ethic (which means "the spirit of the law") run around crying that the law itself doesn't require such a spirit. The Contract with America may have been many things, but it's legitimate to ask any supporter thereof why they would seek to serve for a longer term than the stated "legitimate" duration. If it was important enough to make an amendment to the Constitution, then why not actually lead by example?

This is simple and I appreciate the Professor's commitment to consistency here:

Did these guys make a pledge?
Did they welch on the pledge?
That's legitimate news.

All the rest is puffery.
4.13.2006 7:15pm
PJ:
To be clear, I make no such presumption. I'm not claiming that any indivdiuals were disingenuous or claiming any bad motives in making the pledge, as I don't have any information about them and their actual intents.

Do you think there are bad motives in breaking the pledge? Because without presuming bad motives somewhere, it's hard to see what's so pathetic about it.
4.13.2006 7:35pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
It is always interesting to listen to those who espouse a moral ethic (which means "the spirit of the law") run around crying that the law itself doesn't require such a spirit.


This would be a lot more effective if you could actually show that someone was doing these two seemingly contradictory things.

The Contract with America may have been many things, but it's legitimate to ask any supporter thereof why they would seek to serve for a longer term than the stated "legitimate" duration. If it was important enough to make an amendment to the Constitution, then why not actually lead by example?


Probably because one can believe that limiting the time that anyone can serve in Congress across the board is a good thing but if it only applies to some people and not others (e.g. voluntary term limits), but because Congress has a seniority system for leadership positions and committee chairs it has the effect of punishing those who self-impose limits and their constituents in favor of those who do not*. I'm a supporter of term limits across the board and even though I won't vote for a candidate who tries to serve beyond twelve years in either House, I understand how one can agree that term limit across the board is a good thing but only having them for your own representative creates an unfair advantage for people in other districts.

* Of course none of this makes it right to break your campaign pledge although I suppose an argument could be made that if a candidate who pledged themselves to a maximum of six terms were to tell voters that circumstances have caused him or her to change their mind before they ran for a sixth term, you could argue that they have asked to alter the terms of their "contract" and by voting for them for the additional term, the voters have agreed to the modification.
4.13.2006 7:40pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Power corrupts---film at 10!
4.13.2006 7:41pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Do you think there are bad motives in breaking the pledge? Because without presuming bad motives somewhere, it's hard to see what's so pathetic about it.


I think that's a fair point. What we have here is a case where someone establishes a contract for Congressional services and one of the terms of the contract is that the provider of services (the candidate/incumbent) will only do so for a set time period. The recipient of the services (voters in the district) has the option of terminating or renewing the agreement every two years. The provider has in effect announced that he wants to modify one of the terms of the contract (by serving additional terms beyond their pledge) and the voters have the option of either accepting the proposed modification (continuing the reelect the incumbent) thereby agreeing to change one of the terms of the contract or rejecting the proposed modification (by defeating the incumbent in either the primary or general election).
4.13.2006 7:48pm
finec:

A better idea than term limits: increase congressional salaries to $1 million. Then you would see:

- real competition for the job (talented professionals see it as a viable career path)

- less bribing of politicians

Simple solution to two serious problems. Congress should pass this, exempting all current members.
4.13.2006 7:55pm
Kendall:
Thorley Winston -

Probably because one can believe that limiting the time that anyone can serve in Congress across the board is a good thing but if it only applies to some people and not others (e.g. voluntary term limits), but because Congress has a seniority system for leadership positions and committee chairs it has the effect of punishing those who self-impose limits and their constituents in favor of those who do not.


I agree with this as well as your caveat (so long as it takes place during the 4th or 5th term election for example rather thand during the 6th term). However, I think its also fair to analogize this to the previous president Bush's pledge of "no new taxes."

Whether or not it was fair to do so, critics of the president (mostly from the far right) lambasted him for supporting what they believed and what the president made seem like an absolute pledge. I think its totally legitimate to suggest that if a politician doesn't want to be criticized for breaking their campaign promises they shouldn't make them seem so absolute. In the end it frequently comes back to bite them when they do.
4.13.2006 10:12pm
Kendall:
errr... make that "welching" "breaking" or "reneging on" rather than "supporting"
4.13.2006 10:14pm
OrinKerr:
I don't understand why people are having a hard time with this. To be extra clear, I don't criticize making the pledge; I criticize breaking the pledge. To repeat, making pledge = ok, breaking pledge not = ok.
4.14.2006 12:05am
Lev:
The term limits the founding fathers should have put in:

House: max 18 years

Senate: max 18 years

Supreme Court and all inferior federal courts: first to occur of 25 years ("promotion" to a higher court restarts the 25 year clock)or age 75

President: current system
4.14.2006 12:10am
PJ:
Orin:

It may be clear that you criticize it, but it's less clear why. You call it pathetic. And I say what's pathetic about changing your mind (to a position you agree with no less). Miller says they "exploited popular senitment." I say how is it exploitation if that's what they honestly believed at the time.

If anything, I would think you are on better ground to criticize taking the pledge rather than breaking it. They should have known better than to take the pledge; doing so was naive and ill-advised. But if breaking the pledge is better for their constituents, then why should they keep the pledge? Does a promise have such force that it should be kept even at the cost of harming the intended beneficiary? I don't think so.

Unless you are going to presume bad motives, which you reasonably state you are not, then it is not clear why you are criticizing them. My defense of pledge-breaking certainly doesn't hold in all cases. But you have to admit that it is also not pathetic in all cases. And that's my point: the issue is complicated and not well-suited to the types of generalizations you and Miller are employing.
4.14.2006 1:55am
S.A. Miller (mail) (www):
I am a fan of term limits, but not self imposed term limits for exactly the reason that El Capitan pointed out: they aren't applied across the board.

Term limits are intended for those who otherwise would not self term limit.
4.14.2006 6:52am
Ed:
It would be interesting to see how many republicans honored their promise on Term Limits. I know Charles Canady (my district) left the house for that reason.
4.14.2006 10:43am
Ross Levatter (mail):
For those who say, "well, breaking the pledge is just modifying the contract, and if the politician is reelected, this indicates his constituents are fine with the modification" completely ignore the public choice problem that term limits was supposed to remedy.

Incumbents have dramatically asymmetric power compared to their opponents, and this even without gerrymandering. It comes from the ability to shift government revenues into the district, which provides votes, despite the fact that macroeconomically speaking the country would as a whole be better off if no representative voted for pork-barrel projects that just happened to be in his district. The franking privilege is another factor. Further, studies have consistently demonstrated that the longer a politician stays in office, the greater the probability s/he will vote for higher levels of taxation and spending. Yet polls indicate a large majority prefer less spending and lower taxes. This is a classic prisoner's dilemma, which term limits was designed to remedy.

Given this assymetry, an incumbent winning a 4th re-election after pledging to step down after 3 doesn't prove his constituents oppose term-limits and are happy he continued to run; it proves the need for term limits in the first place.
4.16.2006 6:18pm
Nobody (mail):
Don't forget Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who promised in both of her previous campaigns that she would serve only two terms, and is now running for a third.
4.17.2006 11:44am