Washington State To Vote on Sweeping Term-Limits Measure
Bellwether ballot initiative would remove state's entire federal delegation by 1994
SEATTLE — POLITICIANS around the country are focused on an election in Washington State tomorrow that could drastically change their careers.The issue here is a hard-fought ballot measure that would limit the terms of elected officials. Initiative 553 goes far beyond those measures passed in other states in that it not only would involuntarily retire members of the United States Congress but would boot out Washington's entire current US House delegation by 1994 - including Speaker Thomas Foley (D). The initiative - supported by nearly 70 percent of those polled in the state - is sure to end up in the Supreme Court of the United States if it passes. The US Constitution, which establishes how members of Congress are to be selected, makes no mention of term limits. (Congress after term limits, Page 9.) Backers see the election here as part of a grass-roots movement against unresponsive career politicians able to amass huge campaign war chests and fend off challengers while enjoying expensive perquisites. It's a movement, they say, that has broad national support and is sure to spread. "We need to break down the seniority system in Congress, the influence of the lobbies and the special interests," says Sherry Bockwinkel, 553's campaign director. "This will put government back in the hands of the people." "Turnover will create voter choice by encouraging our best and brightest candidates to run for elected office," says Rick Melanson, a stockbroker in Spokane, Wash., who is coordinating support for the initiative in the eastern part of the state. The measure would restrict the governor and lieutenant governor to two terms. Members of the state and US House of Representatives would be held to three consecutive terms, state and US senators to two terms (not to exceed 10 consecutive years at the state level and 12 years in Congress). Politicians who had served the maximum could run again only after they had sat on the sidelines for six years. The restrictions would not be grandfathered; prior service would be counted in the limits. California, Colorado, and Oklahoma passed term limits last year. Colorado's applies to members of Congress but does not count time in office before the measure was approved. At least 16 more states may have such measures on their 1992 ballots. Measure 553 gives every appearance of being a true grass-roots movement against special interests. Organizers have collected one of the largest number of signatures in state history. Many blue-collar workers have broken ranks with their union leaders to support it. Over 2,000 Washingtonians have made small donations to the cause. Leaders of the statewide organization include Republicans, Democrats, and independents. But opponents say that appearance of a local groundswell is deceiving. They note that professional signature-gatherers rounded up supporters at 40 cents a head. And in recent days they have emphasized the influence of out-of-state political ideologues. Opponents note, for example, that upwards of 85 percent of the pro-553 funding comes from outside the state - a figure pro-initiative officials don't dispute. State records show that more than 70 percent of that money has come from the Committee for Congressional Reform based in Washington, D.C. That group reportedly grew out of Citizens for a Sound Economy, an organization supported by wealthy Kansas oilmen David and Charles Koch. In a blistering speech in Congress last week, Rep. James McDermott (D) said, "I will not stand by and let a few right-wing billionaires try to perpetrate a legal and political fraud on the people I represent." House Speaker Foley says the pro-553 campaign is "elitist and arrogant in nature." A few weeks ago, the state's congressional delegation (having failed to block the vote in state Supreme Court) began funneling money to the anti-initiative campaign. Funds also have come in from labor unions, big business, and some out-of-state special interests like the National Rifle Association. State League of Women Voters president Margaret Colony concedes that opponents "were caught off guard by this initiative." Ms. Colony worries that congressional term limits would "shift the balance of power toward the presidency" as well as "increase the influence of the bureaucrats and the lobbyists and the permanent staff." She also notes that there has been considerable turnover in Washington State politics - 81 percent in the state Legislature during the 1980s and nearly 25 percent in 1991 alone. Opponents scrambling to catch up have been emphasizing the local angle - that Washington State without veteran lawmakers back in Washington, D.C., would lose considerable influence to more-populous states. One of the "No on 553" radio spots warns that "term limits would give congressmen from Los Angeles the power to divert our water to California and congressmen from Texas the power to keep oil companies from paying for oil spills."