Term-Limits Momentum Slows; Candidates Renege

The Florida Times Union, July 18, 2000 | Go to article overview

Term-Limits Momentum Slows; Candidates Renege


SPOKANE, Wash. -- The term-limits movement that helped reshape the political map in the 1990s is under fire this year, partially a victim of its own myriad successes.

Although term-limit supporters say their cause has never been more popular, there are strong signs that the endeavor that once captured the imagination of voters as a way of removing entrenched politicians is flagging, as the country enjoys a record run of prosperity and the anger that propelled the effort has dissipated.

Nowhere is the fight more obvious than in eastern Washington, where Republican Rep. George R. Nethercutt, the onetime emblem of the term-limits movement, is running for re-election. He is being roasted by his erstwhile allies in the term-limits camp for breaking his highly publicized promise, during the 1994 campaign in which he upset House Speaker Thomas Foley, to serve only three terms in the House. As he campaigns this summer for a fourth term, he is facing an expensive media effort to defeat him.

House Republicans, who enshrined term limits in their Contract With America in 1994, have abandoned the idea to the point that they tried this year to convince several self-limiting GOP lawmakers from the classes of 1992 and 1994 to change their minds and run for re-election.

The momentum for passing term-limits laws in the states has slowed, meanwhile. Although Nebraska will have an initiative to limit the terms of state lawmakers on the ballot this November, Mississippi voters rejected a similar measure for a second time a year ago, and it has been five years since the last state adopted a term-limits law. Attempts to get term-limits proposals on ballots are languishing in Portland and some Oregon counties.

And in Washington state's 5th District, Nethercutt, although certainly weakened because of his decision to renege on his promise, appears for now to be comfortably ahead of two Democrats and a maverick Republican challenger. Leading term-limits advocates acknowledge it would be a blow if they fail to defeat Nethercutt, whose victory over Foley six years ago catapulted him into national prominence as the embodiment of the term-limits movement.

"It is a negative if Nethercutt is perceived as not having paid a real price" for breaking his term-limits pledge, said Paul Jacob, the head of U.S. Term Limits, an advocacy group. "And ultimately people are going to judge that price by whether he wins or loses."

U.S. Term Limits is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars -- Jacob denies reports it plans to spend $1 million -- for radio and television ads lambasting Nethercutt for his decision. …

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