Republicans’ pledge clearly had its limits


   Remember term limits?
   About a dozen years ago, just after Bill Clinton captured the presidency and the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, there erupted from the Republican minority a great hue and cry about the need for term limits.
   Why? Because veteran senators and representatives had been hanging around Washington too long. They had become beholden to lobbyists and special-interest groups. They had lost touch with the needs, wishes and political views of their constituents back home.
   What was needed, the Republican insurgents cried, was a constitutional amendment limiting the number of terms a senator or representative could serve. This became one of the principal provisions in the "Contract with America" devised by Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich and signed by most of the Republicans running for Congress in 1994.
   Well, lo and behold, enough of them won to turn the long-suffering Republican minority into a swaggering majority in both houses of the 104th Congress, which took office in January 1995. As the emboldened GOP, led by now-Speaker of the House Gingrich, rushed to carry out the "Contract with America," many of the newcomers to Washington signed a pledge that they would adhere to strict self-imposed term limits, even if this reform did not happen to find its way into the Constitution.
   The magic number, it turns out, was 12. That’s how many years most of the newly seated GOP senators and representatives said they would serve. Two six-year terms for a senator, six two-year terms for a representative and that would be it. Out they would go, voluntarily, to be succeeded by someone with a fresh outlook and new ideas — someone who hadn’t been in Washington too long, become beholden to the lobbyists and the interest groups and lost touch with folks back home.
   Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a Republican from Vineland who represents New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, was one of those wide-eyed freshmen elected in 1994. He signed just such a pledge, promising to serve a maximum of six terms.
   That was then.
   This is now.
   Rep. LoBiondo, who is seeking re-election to a sixth term in November, has now renounced term limits and declared that he will run again in 2006. He said it would be unfair to his district if he stuck to his self-imposed term-limits pledge when many other congressmen had already broken theirs. He also said he didn’t really appreciate the other side of the term-limits debate until he actually got to Congress. "I didn’t fully understand what personal relationships and seniority could mean to the district," he declared.
   This is nonsense, of course. Rep. LoBiondo served six years in the New Jersey Assembly before winning election to Congress — long enough to know the value of personal relationships and seniority in the legislative branch of government. But he, like so many other Republicans running against the Washington establishment in 1994, found it convenient to embrace term limits as a cure-all for what was ailing American politics, and he signed on to the mindless "Contract with America" because that’s how one became a soldier in the Gingrich revolution — and a beneficiary of the GOP’s substantial war chest of campaign funds.
   We can’t criticize Rep. LoBiondo and all the other born-again disciples of congressional longevity for seeking to represent their districts for as long as the voters continue to re-elect them. Their transgression isn’t reneging on their term-limits pledge; it’s making such a foolhardy promise in the first place.