This week, Arizona Senator and Republican Minority Whip Jon Kyl declared he would not seek a fourth term in 2012. Of course, in 1994 Kyl, one of the signers of the GOP Contract with America, promised he would only serve two. And the ironies don't end there. Within hours of Kyl's announcement, six-term Congressman Jeff Flake threw his hat in the ring to replace him. As it turns out, in 2000 Flake made his own, now-abandoned terms limits pledge.
"There is one large reason this decision has been hard for Caryll and me. We have gained so many friends over the years, many of whom, like you, have contributed to my elections and encouraged me to continue to serve. It's hard to say no to such loyal supporters. But I know I am not irreplaceable and next year will be my 26th year of service in the U.S. Congress."
Within hours, Rep. Flake suggested he would almost certainly seek to replace Kyl as the junior Senator from Arizona. "This is Kyl's day," Flake said, "but we'll have an announcement soon enough."
In 2006, CQ Politics profiled eight House Republicans set to break their even more restrictive three-terms-and-out oath. As the story noted, apparently no penalty applies for breach of Contract with America: "All are seeking re-election; all are solid favorites to win."
Arizona's Jeff Flake is an excellent example of the cynicism and hypocrisy of the one-time GOP commitment to term limits. A rising star in party, Flake now says of his campaign 2000 pledge, "It was a mistake to limit my own terms." With the GOP now solidly in control of the House, Flake claims that the party's term limits movement "just petered out." Flake's assessment that his pledge was "a big mistake" no doubt disappointed his supporters at U.S. Terms Limits, who crowed in 2000 that "Arizona's first district now clearly has a great term limits tradition."
Of course, Kyl and Flake have plenty of company among the term limit charlatans of the Republican Party. Kyl's colleague Kay Bailey Hutchison, one of four other Senators announcing they won't seek reelection in 2012, is perhaps the most notable.
Of course, the three-term Senator long ago broke her two-term pledge.
Hutchison is just one of the GOP class of 1994 who is in breach of their Contract with America. In the summer of 2005, Hutchison announced she would run for a third Senate term rather than challenge Republican incumbent Rick Perry in the race for Governor. But on election night in 1994, Hutchison made a commitment to term limits:
"I've always said that I would serve no more than two full terms. This may be my last term, or I could run for one more. But no more after that. I firmly believe in term limitations and I plan to adhere to that."
As it turned out, not so much. According to USA Today, Senator Hutchison in 2006 said "she still supports term limits but would not bind herself unless senators from other states also left after two terms." And as the Washington Post in March 2010, she reversed herself yet again to stay in office after losing the GOP gubernatorial primary in Texas:
Hutchison's decision comes roughly one month after she was badly bested by Gov. Rick Perry in a primary fight that was once seen as hers to lose. During that campaign, Hutchison repeatedly pledged that she would resign her seat in the aftermath of the primary -- win or lose.
To cap a career of term limit hypocrisy, Hutchison last year joined Jim Demint (R-SC), Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) in sponsoring a constitutional amendment which would restrict United States Senators to two, six-year terms. Defending the fraud perpetrated by Hutchison and the likes of Jeff Flake and so many other Republican stalwarts, Demint also lauded their betrayal as principled:
"I want to be clear: demanding that reformers adopt self-imposed term limits is a recipe for self-defeat on this issue. We lost the battle for term limits after the 1994 Republican Contract with America because we forced our best advocates for reform to go home, while the big-spending career politicians waited them out. We must have term limits for all or term limits will never succeed. Only when we apply the same rules to all will we be able to enact vital bipartisan reforms."
Of course, Hutchison, Kyl and Flake all showed, Demint's "best advocates" didn't go home.