Term Limits Dominate Referendum Issues Heading Into Nov. 3 With AM-Props-Limits List
Oct. 14, 1992
Undated (AP) _ The dramatic shakeup in Congress this year may be only a taste of things to come, as voters in 14 states decide whether to impose term limits that would make regular turnover a matter of law.
Congress is seeing the greatest turnover since World War II. Retirees, members who quit because they were fed up, and those who failed in primary election bids bring the exit total to at least 72 House members and eight senators.
Voters in 14 states on Nov. 3 will be asked to limit how long their representatives can stay in Congress, potentially affecting the future of 178 seats. Polls and political experts predict most states will say ''yes.''
It's the biggest single issue on state ballots in one year since initiatives were created around the turn of a century in an effort to throw the bums out and clean up politics.
''It's the root of all of the answers,'' said Jim Coyne, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who organized Americans to Limit Congressional Terms, one of several national groups set up in recent years. ''The citizen legislature is the only hope for a real change.''
Term limit advocates cheer this impulse as a revival of the kind of democracy endorsed by Aristotle and Thomas Jefferson. Proponents charge that lawmakers who stay too long lose their innocence, turn elitist and end up caring most about feathering plush Washington nests.
Opponents warn against leaving Congress to amateurs and tipping power to the president, lobbyists and bureaucrats. They also say term limits may violate the Constitution by letting states dictate terms for federal officeholders and creating an imbalance of power with states lacking term limits.
And it's no remedy for what's really bothering people, many say.
''It seems to me, voters are blaming Congress for problems that voters themselves have helped to create,'' said Alan Brinkley, a Columbia University history professor who says he's indifferent on the issue.
''The deficit is a direct result of members of Congress doing what (voters) want them to do to sustain a high level of services and cut taxes at the same time.''
If passed, the limits would go into effect around the year 2000. All would limit U.S. senate terms to 12 years. House terms would be restricted to six to 12 years, depending on the state. None would be retroactive.
In many states, voters also may limit terms for state and local officials.
While 11 of the states are west of the Mississippi, where citizen initiatives are more common, in every state people are working to make term limits the rule, with the aim of getting it into the U.S. Constitution.
The movement began in Oklahoma, where a successful referendum in September 1990 set limits for state lawmakers. Two months later, Colorado became the first state, again by referendum, to limit service of its members of Congress, as well as state lawmakers.
Voters in Washington state last year narrowly defeated a retroactive term- limit initiative. The outcome was credited, in part, to last-minute campaigning by someone who would have lost his job: House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash.
The measure is back on the state's ballot, now without retroactivity. And it won't go into effect unless at least nine other states adopt limits.
Polls consistently show support for term limits in the 70 percent range. A recent poll for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, for example, found 74 percent support for terms limits in Ohio, 21 percent opposition and 5 percent undecided. The poll conducted Oct. 5-7 surveyed 1,023 registered voters. The margin of sampling error was 3 percentage points.
Heading against this wind are groups like the Michigan Citizens Committee Against Term Limitations, a coalition of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, business and union executives and two former governors.
''We already have term limits,'' said Fran Parker, president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan. ''It's called voting.''
The faults of Congress, Ms. Parker said, should be fixed by campaign reform and reining in privileges. Limiting terms ''is taking away the rights of the people,'' she said.
Austin Ranney, professor emeritus of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, opposes term limits as misguided, noting the idea has been tried before.
The Progressive Era of 1890 to 1920 ''produced recall, initiative, and term limits first applied to governors,'' Ranney said.
But Mark Petracca, who teaches political science at the University of California, Irvine, and favors term limits, calls it an ancient idea natural to democracy.
''Aristotle said the essence of democratic citizenship is 'ruling and being ruled in turn,''' Petracca said. ''You are better as a representative when you experience ... ruling and (then) living under the rules that you yourself have created. We've lost that.''