Friday, December 16, 2011

Newt Gingrich no friend of Congressional term limits

With the rise of Newt Gingrich in the polls, I have been repeatedly asked where he stands on term limits.

After all, didn't he win the House back in 1994 with his Contract with America which included term limits? Yes, but that's only part of the story.

In 1991, before the Contract with America, Newt Gingrich called term limits "a terrible idea." However later when nearly every state with a citizen initiative process had term limited their U.S. Congress members and state representatives, Newt added this "terrible idea" to his platform and indeed it was the most popular plank.

Once in power, Newt did everything possible to avoid passage and, worse, actively schemed to undo the work done by the citizens in the states who had collected millions of signatures and cast millions of votes.

Newt appointed Florida Congressman Bill McCollum to be his point man on the issue. Newt and Bill pushed a politician-friendly 12-year term limits amendment bill that blatantly upended the mostly 6- and 8-year term limits passed by 23 states. But that was only part one of the betrayal.

Newt was and is a brilliant political schemer. Gingrich and McCollum's insistence on a 12-year bill in direct defiance to the national term limits movement was part of a proliferation of term limits bills. This proliferation permitted every Congress member to support a bill and go back home and brag about their vote to their constituents, while remaining confident that none would ever pass. In all there were 11 different term limits bills introduced, four of which came to a vote. A tough vote under any circumstances, by dividing the votes between the different bills, the people's goose was cooked.

The attitude of Reps. Gingrich and McCollum were probably best summed up by another Contract with American beneficiary Rep. Dick Armey of Texas who famously said that "If we Republicans can straighten out the House . . . then I think maybe the nation's desire for term limits will be diminished."

Hardly. Recent polling shows some 78 percent of Americans -- including 84 percent of Republicans and 74 of Democrats and 74 percent of independents -- support Congressional term limits.

Today, Gingrich is at least up-front about his opposition to term limits. In September in Orlando, he told U.S. Term Limits Board Member Rick Shepherd, essentially, "We tried that and it didn't work." Sure, Newt, whatever.

So when I am asked if lifetime professional politician-turned-lobbyist-turned presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is the Patron Saint of Term Limits, I answer: Hell no.