I remember back in 1992 the voters in the State of Washington instituted term limits on their elected officials. The state’s US congressman at the time Democrat Tom Foley was a powerful heavily entrenched career politician who had already served in the US House for nearly 30 years, decided that the voters in his state were wrong and he being a seasoned lawyer brought a suit against his state to overturn the new initiative. Hard to believe, but true! What does this say about the attitude of an elected official who turns on his own constituents? It seemed surreal that any politician could be so callus and arrogant toward those who had elected him into office, time and time again, election after election for three decades! Was Mr. Foley an example what happens to politicians who forget why they are in office-to SERVE and represent the values, beliefs and needs of their constituents who elected them to office?
Mr. Foley was the Speaker of the US House, a position he achieved in 1986 when House Speaker Jim Wright (D) of Texas resigned his position in the midst of an ethics scandal. While in the House, Speaker Foley, consistently opposed efforts to impose term limits on the elected officials in Washington State. He won the support of the State’s voters to reject a term limits referendum in 1991 but just one year later in 1992 the voters decided that they had had enough and passed the initiate and term limits became the law.
One would think that an elected official would get the message of one’s constituents but this was not the case with Tom Foley. He pressed on with his law suit challenging the constitutionality of a state law setting eligibility requirements on federal offices. The Federal courts sided with Mr. Foley declaring that states did not have the authority under the U.S. Constitution to limit the terms of federal officeholders. A victory for Mr. Foley? I think not. Now as Paul Harvey would say; “here’s the rest of the story.”
In 1994 just two years after the States voter approved term limits initiate Mr. Foley decided that he wanted to run once again for re-election. Now just imagine your are the sitting congressman and your constituents in record numbers voted to keep you from making a career out of your position you laughed at them called them ignorant, ill-informed law-breakers, you sued them in Federal court and now you smile at those whom you have conquered and tell them that you want to SERVE them once again for a 16th term. Does this even seem real? Into the picture comes Republican challenger George Nethercutt of Spokane, Washington. Nethercutt was a well spoken and confident newcomer to politics. His campaign focused on one simple line, "Foley against the People of the State of Washington." Nethercutt won the election making Tom Foley the first sitting Speaker of the House to lose his bid for re-election since Galusha Grow in 1862.
Term limits are a wonderful thing when they are self-imposed. It is the recognition that lengthy service breeds entitlement. It is the very reason that President’s Washington and Jefferson after both serving two terms would not run for a third. They each new that the longer they served the greater the likelihood that selflessness could become selfishness. Even George Nethercutt promised the voters of Washington that he would only serve three terms but he served five and lost his bid for a sixth term! Obviously, the voters finally caught on that time.
There are two reasons that I support term limits. First is apathy. Apathy (a low voter turnout) usually keeps the incumbents in office. It is when the voters look the other way and don’t vote that their freedoms are slowly taken from them. Term limits are a good way to keep apathy from re-electing the same people year after year decade after decade. The second reason I support term limits is because the incumbents have discovered another way to stay in office through re-districting. They simply re-draw the lines in their districts to make sure that they only capture the people who voted for them. This way regardless of the voter turnout they will be re-elected because the majority of the voters in their “new” district are the party-liners who voted for them the last time.
If more people would vote there would be no need for term limits. Ultimately the power should always be in the hands of the voters not the politicians. The only power a politician should and does have is that that is given them in measure by those who put them in office. When that power is abused or worse, used against the very people who gave it, the voters MUST take it away. And the best way to take it away is at the election both one vote at a time. But until more voters exercise their God-given right to vote I will support term limits!