Republican Term Limits Debate and Poll
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In the midterm elections of 1994, the Republicans gained a majority in Congress for the first time in more than 40 years. The Republican candidates for the House of Representatives campaigned on a platform called the "Contract with America" which consisted of a ten-point agenda that included a pledge to impose term limits.
In 1998 one of the early converts, Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.), first elected in 1992 when he promised to serve only three terms, broke ranks and easily won reelection to a fourth term. He plans to run again in 2000. "He's in a position to do a lot of good for the district," McInnis's press secretary, William Bos, said in defending the decision. "There was a bit of learning experience for him in Congress. He did underestimate the value of experience."
When it came to term limits, Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.) was a true believer. When Fowler first ran for Congress in 1992, she promised to serve only four terms. "Eight is Enough" was her rallying cry. Fowler's eight years are also up in 2000, but the proposition of term limits, it seems, is no longer as simple and straightforward as she once saw it: Fowler is actively considering running for a fifth term next year.
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Florida Rep. Tillie Fowler, the top ranking woman in the House Republican leadership, announced she would not run for reelection this year, sticking to a 1992 promise to serve only four terms.
Republican Rep. George R. Nethercutt (Wash.), who promised to serve only three terms during his successful 1994 campaign to oust House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.). Is now having second thoughts.
Republican Rep. J.éC. Watts (Okla.), head of the House Republican Conference and the only black Republican in Congress, also made a three-term pledge. Is having second thoughts.
Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) will keep her three-term promise in 2000, but she said recently that does not necessarily mean she won't run for Congress again in 2002.
"The truth is term limits doesn't pull very well," Jill Schroeder, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in voicing the new GOP view of the issue. "It's way down in exit polls. It sounds good, but people like their members."
There are six Republicans who are promising to keep their pledge to leave Congress. Republican Reps. Matt Salmon of Arizona, Charles Canady of Florida, Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Jack Metcalf of Washington are the six committed to leaving.
J. C. Watts, the lone black Republican in Congress, who vowed at times during his initial 1994 campaign that he would only serve three terms, wavered for months on whether he would seek reelection. "Regardless of what I said then, I will stand for reelection before the citizens of Oklahoma," Watts told a news conference. "I will let them judge." Asked if his abandonment of the term limits pledge indicated the movement was dying, Watts said, "I just don't think it has a lot of muster."
When he wanted to win the election
for Michigan Republican Governor, John Engler supported term limits. He was loud
about it. In fact, he pledged to serve only two terms. He made that pledge even
though the term limits law Michigan voters passed in 1992 during his first term
allowed him to serve two more terms. In 1998 it was time for Engler to step down
as he had pledged. Engler ignored his promise. Engler tells the Detroit News
that he thinks the benefits of term limits were "oversold" and that
they should be extended to 12 years -- double the limits now in place on the
House of Representatives and 50 percent longer for Senators and the Governor.