Limiting Inslee

A Microsoftie challenges the veteran Congressman with that old standby: term limits.

Before he can run for governor against Rob McKenna in 2012 (as he's widely expected to do), six-term congressional Representative Jay Inslee has to fend off a 2010 challenge by former bank manager James Watkins.Watkins, now at Microsoft, recently released a poll showing Inslee earning a paltry 37 percent approval rating. Watkins' campaign commissioned the survey, so the numbers are suspect, but if we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's got Inslee on the ropes, what's Watkins' plan for knocking him out? Playing up term limits. His biggest issue with Inslee is how long the guy's been in office. He says we need term limits to stop government corruption.It's the campaign tactic that time (nearly) forgot. And why was it abandoned in the first place? Because nobody can stick with term limits.Recall that in the 1994 election Republicans swept into Congress (thanks, in part to Hillary Clinton's failed health-care initiative) with promises to reform government, in part by enacting term limits. But it turned out politicians' egos won't let them just walk away from office.So what are the chances Watkins will still be pro–term limits after a few years in D.C.? Here's what history has to say:In 1994, Newt Gingrich orchestrated the Republican congressional takeover, anchored by the "Contract With America," which included a pledge that if the GOP gained power, it would establish term limits. When he first unveiled the Contract six weeks before the election, Gingrich was trumpeting a three-term limit for House members. But a month after his party's sweeping victory, he decided perhaps six terms would be better. Even that was never enacted.The person who benefited most from term-limits fervor was George Nethercutt. In 1994, he not only signed Gingrich's Contract, but explicitly promised to serve only three terms. Based in part on that pledge, the good people of Spokane unceremoniously dumped then–Speaker of the House Tom Foley and voted in Nethercutt. Flash-forward six years, and Nethercutt should have been graciously retiring. But gosh, he was so darn popular that he decided maybe he'd stay for another couple of terms.In 1996 Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she would serve only two terms, a promise she reiterated in 2002. But by 2007, she was campaigning for a third. And it's not only members of Congress who can't seem to help themselves. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who switched from Republican to Independent in 2007) convinced the city council to overturn its no-third-term ordinance, something he had once supported, so he could have another go.Perhaps cognizant of history, Watkins leaves himself a little wiggle room—actually, a lot. In a campaign video, he says he'll leave office after a few terms, but only if everyone is subject to the same limits. "I don't think it's a good idea for us to have the good guys term-limit themselves out of Congress and leave the less-good guys in Congress," he says.So where do you fall on the "good guy" scale when you run on an issue like term limits with no intention of actually leaving D.C.?

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