Terms Limits Are Not Needed . . .

November 12, 1991

Last Wednesday, the day after 46 percent of Washington state voters voted for term limits that would have forced Speaker of the House Tom Foley and four of his senior colleagues to retire, House Democrats voted 258-3 to endorse a legal brief by the House counsel telling state courts that term limitation is unconstitutional. In other words, even if the voters of Washington had approved of term limits, Mr. Foley and his colleagues should continue to serve. What arrogance. What obtuseness.

We have never favored term limits. Noting growing anger with Congress, we said a year ago that advocating term limits might be smart politics but is dumb government, that experience is a virtue in a legislator. We also said, "Most states won't enact term-limit laws on their congressional delegations because to do so would be to give competing states the advantage on important committees." That is exactly what happened in Washington. Opponents of term limits led by Speaker Foley argued that if his powerful presence were removed from the House, the huge California delegation would force through legislation detrimental to Washington's treasured environment. California has long coveted more of Washington's water resources.

We would not have believed that Washington of all states would turn out a 46-percent vote in favor of term limitations. If under the special considerations there that favor retention of senior members of its congressional delegation, 46 percent vote against it, the public mood is one Democrats in Congress better try better to understand. The "fear of California syndrome" may not be so strong in other states with less senior delegations. Next year 18 states are expected to have term-limit initiatives on the ballot. More than 40 states are considering or will consider term-limit legislation.

If fear of California results in defeat of limits in all or most of those states, the next step is sure to be a constitutional amendment applying term limits to all states. The public is fed up. An Associated Press poll says two-thirds of the public favors term limits. Voting against such an amendment would be fatal to many incumbents. It is something they ought to want to avoid. We believe that could be avoided if Congress would address the real motivating force behind the term-limit movement, the real reason people are so fed up with the electoral process. That is the absence of any real choice in House of Representatives elections.

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