O.C.'s Dornan Leading Term-Limit Push : Politics: Proposed constitutional amendment would impose 6-year cap on House service and 12-year cap in Senate.


Orange County Rep. Robert K. Dornan is leading an effort launched Thursday to fill Congress with “citizen legislators” by limiting the time lawmakers can hold federal office.

Anticipating a Supreme Court decision this summer, Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) proposed a constitutional amendment that would restrict House members to three two-year terms and senators to two six-year terms.

Supporters say that requirement would give more people a chance to win seats in Congress and restore integrity to public service.

“A three-term limit will end the corrupt seniority system and create a competitive election every cycle,” said Paul Jacobs, president of U.S. Term Limits, a lobbying group.


An identical bill was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and John Ashcroft (R-Mo.).

Whether the measure will pass is uncertain. The House will vote on competing versions that set different limits for service, and opposition is hard to gauge.

Because the issue is one of 10 planks in the GOP’s “contract with America,” it will be voted on within Congress’ first 100 days, which ends in mid-April.

Dornan said he is leading the battle because the public needs a sure-fire way to rid Congress of the “deadwood” of longtime incumbents. Passage would move well beyond the in-house reforms approved Wednesday and become the shining star of the contract, he said.


“This will be one of the hardest fought and most exciting debates,” he said.

The Republican Party traditionally has supported term limits more than Democrats, primarily because the GOP could not break the Democrats’ 40-year hold on the House. Now that the GOP is in control, persuading some Republican members to support term limits is a tougher task, Dornan said.

Opponents are less organized and vocal. With Americans clamoring for change, few lawmakers relish fighting term limits, a position partly credited with the defeat of House Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.) in the November elections.

One opponent is Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Hyde said term limits are “anti-democratic.”


“We already have term limits,” said Sam Stratman, Hyde’s press secretary. “They are called elections. Congressman Hyde believes that term limits prevent people from choosing who they want.”

Twenty-two states have passed initiatives restricting public service, and opinion polls showed overwhelmingly support for them. California imposes a six-year limit for House members.

But the matter is at a critical point now that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether an Arkansas term-limit law is constitutional. If the court strikes it down, an constitutional amendment will be the last resort.

A term-limit amendment requires 290 votes to pass the House.


If it passed both chambers, 38 states would have to ratify it.

Dornan said he called a 12-year limit, which he originally supported, a “clever cop-out.” It gives members a chance to vote for term limits but doesn’t go far enough, he said.

The 10-term congressman, who recently said he would consider another House bid if he forgoes a presidential run, is frustrated that he is criticized for staying in Congress so long when he is an outspoken proponent of term limits.

“That accomplishes absolutely nothing, because the careerists can stay and dominate this place and life goes on the way we’ve seen it.”