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Term Limit Advocate Runs Again

September 17, 2000

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ For the first time since he reneged on his promise to serve only three terms in Congress, Rep. George Nethercutt is at the mercy of the voters.

And his critics aren’t letting anyone forget it as he heads into Tuesday’s Republican primary.

TV commercials paid by a national term limits group blanket the eastern Washington district. His appearances are shadowed by the Weasel King, a costumed critic sent by term limit supporters, and former Education Secretary William Bennett, author of a book on virtue, says Nethercutt increases cynicism about politics.

Nethercutt’s race is a highlight of Tuesday’s Washington primary, which also includes two women waging an expensive Democrat primary fight to challenge Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash.

Massachusetts and Oklahoma also go to the polls Tuesday.

In Nethercutt’s district of rolling hills, wheat fields and forested mountains, a few ``Elect Tom Foley″ signs have sprouted _ reminding voters of the House speaker and 15-term congressman Nethercutt defeated with his term-limits promise. Foley is now ambassador to Japan.

``I have repeatedly acknowledged that I made a mistake in self-limiting in 1994,″ said Nethercutt, 55. ``I would rather be known as the congressman who admitted a mistake and changed his mind, rather than the congressman who couldn’t and wouldn’t.″

Challenging him is former radio talk show host Richard Clear, whose low-budget campaign ($69,000 raised) pales against Nethercutt’s $567,000 campaign. Clear, 52, promises to serve no more than five terms and calls for a smaller federal government and a stronger defense.

Clear is getting help from U.S. Term Limits, which has paid for television and billboard ads attacking Nethercutt since he announced last year that he would run again. The group promised to spend $1 million to unseat the man they helped propel to victory in 1994, when support for term limits swept the country.

``Your word has to mean something to voters back home and to your congressional peers,″ said Clear, who gave up his radio job to make his first run for elected office. ``It’s obvious we’ve lost that.″

Bennett, a fellow Republican, wrote in a recent edition of the National Journal that Nethercutt is acting ``dishonorably.″

``He’s breaking his word and he’s doing it without remorse,″ Bennett wrote. ``He’s making people more cynical about politics.″

Nethercutt’s not the only one to change his mind. The other members of the class of ’94 to break their term limits pledge are Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass.

Seven House members kept their promise, including Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, whose district abuts Nethercutt’s, said Paul Jacob, director of the national term limits group.

``They retired the speaker of the house to try and reform the cesspool that is Washington, D.C.,″ Jacob said. ``George Nethercutt has become a part of that cesspool.″

No reliable polls shed any light on the outcome of the race, although some voters who supported him in the past say they won’t vote for him again.

``I would have voted for him if he had not made the promise and failed to keep it,″ said Donald Capstick of Spokane.

Nethercutt says the pledge was a mistake, and that experience and seniority count in Congress _ the same arguments Foley used to no avail six years ago.

The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, the district’s largest newspaper, endorsed Nethercutt in the primary. ``It takes courage for a politician to admit he was wrong,″ the newspaper said.


On the Net:

Rep. Nethercutt: http://www.house.gov/nethercutt/

U.S. Term Limits: http://www.termlimits.org

Richard Clear: http://clear2000.com

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