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RI’s Congressional Delegation Oppose Term Limits

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Despite a recent Gallup poll that shows that three out of four Americans support imposing term limits for members of Congress, a figure that is perhaps buoyed by that legislative branch’s 14-percent approval rating, Rhode Island’s four congressional delegate members are all opposed to the idea of an imposed limit, saying it would have a negative impact on the will of the state’s voters.

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who won a second term last November by defeating Republican challenger Barry Hinckley, believes Rhode Island has benefitted by having experienced politicians in its congressional delegation.

"Rhode Island has a proud tradition of elected officials who have served our state well for many years,” said Seth Larson, a spokesman for Whitehouse. “Claiborne Pell served in the Senate for 36 years, John O. Pastore served for 26 years, and John Chafee served for 23 years. Senator Whitehouse believes that our state benefited from their long careers in public service, and does not believe we should force our Members of Congress to step down before the people of Rhode Island want them to."

At issue is a poll that shows many Americans are frustrated with the direction Congress is headed.

Earlier this week, US Senator Pat Toomey reintroduced a bill that would limit members of the house to a total of six years in office and restrict US Senators to two terms total, or 12 years.

With difficult, last-minute negotiations to stall the “fiscal-cliff”, public sparring over the debt ceiling limit and a still struggling economy both state and nationwide, many Americans feel their representatives in the legislative branch of government aren’t doing enough to chart a new direction for the country.

Yet, judging by this November’s election, those feelings may not be strong enough to elect new leaders.

One man who knows a thing or two about bucking approval rating numbers is Rhode Island’s District 1 Representative David Cicilline.

In February of last year, the former Providence mayor looked all but dead in his re-election bid as a Brown University poll showed just 14.8 percent of voters were happy with his job performance.

With his seat deemed winnable, Cicilline faced a tough primary challenge against businessman Anthony Gemma and, later, the former head of the State Police Brendan Doherty.

Cicilline fought back both opponents and managed to swing enough voters back to his side to earn a second term in office. It’s no surprise, then, that the Congressman prefers to put the power of electing leaders strictly into the hands of the people.

"In every election voters have the absolute right and final say over who will represent them,” Cicilline spokeman Richard Luchette said. “David believes that setting arbitrary term limits would deny voters this basic right."

Cicilline’s remarks mirror those of Rhode Island’s other Senator, Jack Reed, who’s in the midst of his third term in office after easily dispatching Republican challenger Robert Tingle in 2008.

"Senator Reed believes the power to vote on whether elected officials should continue their service in office is the right of every American citizen," said Reed’s press secretary Chip Unruh.

Perhaps the member of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation that would be most impacted is Representative Jim Langevin.

Currently on his seventh term in office after an easy victory over a pair of opponents in Republic Michael Riley and Independent candidate Abel Collins, Langevin’s stance on term limits is a bit unclear, although it does appear he would lean toward leaving the power in the hands of voters.

“While he prefers giving constituents the choice of whether to impose a term limit through the elections process, Congressman Langevin has said he would consider a law for term limits if proposed,” said Langevin spokesman Jonathan Dworkin.

If passed, Toomey’s bill would call for a constitutional amendment that would impose term limits on a nationwide basis, alleviating at least one of Langevin’s concerns.

“Recognizing the importance of seniority in the current system, it would have to be the same for everyone across the country and not done by a specific state, which would be put at a considerable disadvantage if it attempted to act on its own,” Dworkin explained.

How far Tooney’s bill gets remains to be seen, as does the debate over whether or not members of Congress should be limited in how long they are allowed to remain in office.

One thing is for sure, the latest poll figures show most Americans support the initiative … even if their elected representatives themselves disagree.


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