Remember Those Term-Limit Pledges?

It's hard to believe that twelve years have passed since the Newt Gingrich-led Republican Revolution of 1994.

In that year, GOP candidates launched a successful effort to take control of both the House and Senate, something they had not been able to accomplish in the previous forty-two years. Their campaign focused heavily on the Contract with America, a list of objectives that Republicans promised to pursue in Congress if elected into the majority.

One of the key proposals of the document was the Citizen Legislature Act, a measure which would amend the Constitution to place limits on the number of terms members of both the House and Senate could serve. The argument was that career politicians become too distant from the people and need to be replaced by “citizen legislators.” In a show of support for the proposed amendment, which eventually failed in the House, several GOP candidates pledged to limit their own terms (independent of any legislation forcing them to do so) if elected. Small numbers of candidates followed this trend in future elections as well.

Of course, it is one thing to make a promise, and quite another to keep it. For the first ten years following the '94 campaign, slightly more than half of those with a pledge honored it when it came time to do so. This year marked a real test, however, as seven members of the '94 class had pledged to limit themselves to twelve years in Congress. In addition, three members elected in 2000 had promised to leave after six years. Of the ten members due to retire, however, not one is actually doing so! Each is reneging on their campaign pledge and running again in 2006. The pledge-breakers are:

For an in-depth look at term limits; including history, arguments for and against, and an examination of our pledge-breakers, be sure to check out Congresspedia’s great page on the topic.


Rep. Ron Lewis (R-Ky.) was all for term limits when he was first elected in a special election in 1994 that served as a bellwether for the Republican Revolution. But he's still running for re-election! Weren't these guys supposed to serve 12 years and then disappear? What happened?