SEN. PAUL SARBANES came by for sandwiches with the editorial writers. Someone asked him about term limitations.
He said, "I don't agree with the argument that seniority and age are bad things."
"I can remember a day when you did," I said. (I don't go anywhere without my needles.)
I do remember very well when Paul was an unknown 37-year-old member of the House of Delegates running for Congress for the first time. The year was 1970. His district was basically north and northeast Baltimore. The incumbent was George Fallon, a 13-term veteran who had become chairman of the House Public Works Committee.
Some of Paul's best arguments against the chairman were that he was too old (he was 68) and too ailing and too remote to represent the district anymore. And too close to big, rich campaign contributors who depended on pork from the committee chairman's big barrel.
To the surprise of many, Sarbanes beat the chairman in the Democratic primary and was elected to the House in the fall.
I do not believe he could do that today. Today, a committee
chairman would have so much more money in campaign contributions that a serious challenge would be all but impossible. A Fallon running in a Baltimore district today might spend a couple of million dollars. Not only that, but he would have vastly greater resources supplied by the taxpayer. More staff now than then, more allowance for mail and transportation and telecommunications. Fallon-Sarbanes was a little lopsided in campaign resources-wise; it would be LOPSIDED in 1992.
(Interestingly, not one but two committee chairmen were defeated in that 1970 primary. Parren Mitchell edged out House Administration Committee Chairman Sam Friedel in his northwest Baltimore-based district. I suppose chairmen still get beat, but off-hand I can't recall such a recent upset.)
I agree with Sarbanes' main point. I don't think age and seniority are bad things in a congressman, anymore than they are in an editorial writer. But that's not what advocates of term limitations are upset about. They -- and other critics of the House of Representatives -- are upset at the lack of turnover. When Rep. Ben Cardin ate sandwiches with us the other day, he said turnover in the Maryland House of Delegates made it a better, more responsive legislative body in many ways than the U.S. House of Representatives.
From 1970 through 1982, the average turnover in the House of Representatives per election (due to defeats, retirements, deaths, felony convictions, etc.) was 69.3. From 1984-1990, it was 42.2. There are 435 members of the House. The odds against newcomers have gone from about 6-1 to about 10-1. That's a significant change.
Sarbanes also talked to us about the 1992 presidential election.
Saturday: The Democrats dream of Winston Churchill.