In November 1989 after House Speaker Torn Foley (D-WA) and his ally, Rep. Bob Michel (R- L) locked arms to ram through the House of Representatives a $35,000 pay raise for each legislator, plus another leap in the lawmakers` pensions, I called Mr. Foley on the telephone. Given both his squashing of public committee hearings and denying the right to offer amendments on the House floor, he was defensively self-righteous about having followed “lawful” procedures.
The Foley procedures may be lawful under the House rules, but they were authoritarian and arrogant. “You are fomenting civic rebellion, Mr. Foley,” I told him. He did not like that message, but he no longer can deny its increasing validity.
Prompted by episode after episode of Congressional nest—feathering. scandals end coarsest of obeisance to special corporate interests raiding the treasury and shredding the health and safety rights of Americans, the public is rising toward a bipartisan revulsion against incumbents. The recent House bank check: bouncing practice of many House legislators was lust the latest in Capitol Hill’s perks and power trips.
Now, however, Speaker Foley’s attention is focused on his home state of Washington’s Initiative 553. Expected to win comfortably in the November 5th elections, the Initiative limits the terms of the Governor, the state legislators and the members of the state’s Congressional delegation. Foley would be out of his job in 1994, if this referendum is upheld.
But the Congressional pay-raiser from Spokane is confident that the Supreme Court of the United States will rule that state law cannot limit the terms of federal legislators. So Foley and his anti-Initiative 553 coalition are conducting only a half-hearted attempt to defeat the term-limiters at the polls.
The Supreme Court may agree with Foley and limit the burgeoning term‑ limitation movement in a dozen states only to state elective offices. But that will not erase the momentum that referenda such as Initiative 553 will generate toward a constitutional amendment to limit terms, much as has been ratified for Presidential term limits years ago.
Nor will it diminish the indignation that people of all political persuasions are directing at the near dynastic self-perpetuating nature of power in Washington. Somehow, Foley and company seemed always to dismiss this outrage as merely scattered disgruntlement whipped up by fast-talking radio talk show hosts. They interpreted their own proof were satisfied with their Representatives.
Foley himself has been on automatic re-elect from his several elections. How then can he explain the polls showing voters throughout his State, including his District, favoring the term limitation initiative? One reason is that people have an alternative this time. They are not stuck with a well‑ financed incumbent on one side and little or no funded competition from any opponents — the sad state of affairs in nearly 90% of House Congressional races. Second, people increasingly are fed up with the system that features big money in campaigns and big influence peddling on Congress and the White House between elections.
Accordingly, instead of focusing on individuals working the system, people are attracted to proposals that provide them with a generic mechanisms such as limited terms. Throw the incumbents out, get some fresh people with fresh energies and urgencies in their place.
What did all this experience by the “long-terms” produce anyhow — huge deficits, weakened economy, corporate crime, privileges for the rich and powerful, corruption, give-a-ways to the well-connected, Pentagon procurement, S&L and HUD scandals ad infinitum? How could newly elected legislators corning from a voter revolt do as badly?
So, Tom Foley, if you keep running a House of Representatives where members are more afraid of you, your Republican counterpart in the leadership and the campaign financiers than they are of the American people, the civic rebellion will go far beyond the modest reform of term limitation.