Thursday, March 30, 2006

term limits

remember the contract with america? that was the campaign platform spearheaded by newt gingrich in 1994 for how republicans were going to "clean up" congress. all republicans who were trying to win new seats in the house in '94 signed the contract.

among other things, signatories to the contract swore to support (and try to pass) 10 reform bills. the tenth was the citizen legislature act, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have imposed term limits on congress, limiting senators to two terms and house members to either three or six terms. some candidates even took this further and made personal pledges not to serve more than 12 years.

unsurprisingly, now that those 12 years are up, some of these republicans are not ready to step down. doug links to a mydd post (itself about an article in cq politics) about congressional representatives who have broken their campaign promises to step down after 12 years. one of the promise-breakers mentioned in the original article is indiana's mark souder.

some of these representatives were probably a little naive in '94 and didn't realize the fundamental flaw of term limits: that limits force people to step down just as they have built up the skills to excel—though undeniably, term limits would also get rid of the tom delays and randy cunninghams before they are able to get too corrupt. maybe some of them just don't want to give up their positions of power. but a promise is a promise, and this is yet another in an infinitely long line of broken promises from republicans in congress.

the mydd post also has an action item: it lists 24 more members of the "class of 1994" who signed the contract with america but were not listed in the cq politics article. the challenge: "Can you find evidence that weak Republican House members from the class of '94 pledged not to serve more than 6 terms?"

i noticed that another indiana congressman is on the list of "24 to target": none other than john hostettler (a very visible figure last discussed on this blog last month during the facebook scandal). so i took it on myself to research hostettler's opinions on term limits. and let me say, researching this is a mess.

hostettler now is firmly against term limits, including for the president, and retroactively claims he was always against them. some people (apparently including some at the ed board of the evansville courier and press) buy it. others are convinced that hostettler did publicly support term limits at first. the fact that he signed the contract suggests that he did, at one point, support term limits. either that or he didn't "mean it" when he signed the contract, which itself would say a lot about him.

i posted these findings in a comment on doug's blog. john, another commenter followed up:

I'm not sure if it would constitute a "personal pledge," but at a town hall meeting I attended in 1994 I personally heard Hostettler say that he would serve no more than 6 terms (12 years). I have been waiting for him to announce his withdrawl per this promise, but don't hold my breath for fear of passing out.

as i said in my original comment, because this happened in '94 before many people were on the web, "i suspect a lexis-nexis search of articles from 1994 would be the way to answer this, and i don't have a subscription here at home." though i believe virago has lexis access with her university account, so i might be able to look into this further tomorrow.

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