Opposing their president and an increasingly vocal segment of the American public, leaders of the Maryland Republican Party voted yesterday to oppose term limits for members of Congress.
Some in the party thought the vote was a reflection of the party's growing sense of itself as a contender for the seats that would be limited.
"I was surprised at the soundness of the [term limit] resolution's defeat," said Joshua Smith, a Montgomery County businessman. think it reflects the resurgence of the Republican Party -- we don't want to lose our own representatives."
The resolution failed by a margin of about 2-to-1. Many party members attributed the margin to the arguments of Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd
"For Republicans to oppose term limitations is obscene," said a member of the party who asked for anonymity. "It's like Democrats opposing tax increases. Helen doesn't want to leave office any sooner than she has to."
Mrs. Bentley acknowledged that she became an opponent of limits after she was elected. "I more or less advocated limits then, but when I saw the control of staff I changed my mind," she said, referring to the permanent bureaucracy of Washington.
Even now, she added, "some members don't dare to breathe without staff telling them everything."
Yesterday's vote came at the end of the party's two-day fall convention, held at the Columbia Inn in Columbia.
Charles Howe of Baltimore argued during debate of the resolution that limits, proposals for which are now pending in several states, would relieve Americans "of the shenanigans that come from ingrown power. "The general public," he said, "is fed up."
Robert Weiss of Montgomery County said, "Twelve years is enough for anybody -- even someone as good as Helen Bentley."
But Mrs. Bentley insisted that term limits would have to be accompanied by limits for congressional staff and the