By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
ST PETERSBURG — A GOP representative who promised to push for term-limits in his initial congressional campaign run is again seeking office, hoping to claim victory for a 13th term in the nation’s capital.
U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns of the 6th District, composed of north-central Florida, made limiting the amount of time Congress members can serve a constant trope of his early legislative career, beginning with a stern pledge in the 1988 general election.
“I believe in term limits and I’m going to abide by it myself. I plan to be out of the House after 12 years,” Stearns told the St. Petersburg Times in 1988.
He later reiterated to the Gainesville Sun in 1995 that he would serve “no more than 12 years even if Congress does not adopt its own term-limit restrictions.”
“To give it your all for 12 years takes a pretty good effort,” he told the paper at the time.
Stearns was also a proud supporter of the Republican Party’s Contract with America in 1994, spearheaded by then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Section 10 of the contract included the “Citizen Legislature Act,” a bill that would introduce a 12-year limit on the terms of House representatives.
The bill was never brought to the floor.
“Rep. Stearns supports term limits that apply to everyone because term limits would only work if it applies to all members,” his office wrote in an email to Florida Watchdog.
“Stearns was an original cosponsor of H.J.Res. 73, which would have imposed term limits, and Stearns voted for it. However, the measure did not pass. Stearns also voted for H.J. Res. 2, another piece of term-limit legislation, but again this measure did not pass.”
Stearns will seek re-election in the 3rd District rather than challenge current 5th District and fellow GOP Rep. Richard Nugent in the Republican primary Aug. 14.
“He tries to tell you with a straight face that he’s still in favor of term limits,” said state Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, who will face Stearns in the GOP primary.
“But nobody has held his feet to the fire. I’m not planning on going up there to retire in Washington, I’m going to shake up the system,” Oelrich told Florida Watchdog.
“There are term limits for the presidency and there ought to be term limits for the Senate, the House and the Supreme Court,” said Democratic businessman J.R. Gailliot of Fleming Island, who will face the winner of the GOP primary in the fall.
“It is one thing to say that we need change, but too many politicians use that mantra and too many politicians just become so entrenched in a broken system,” Gailliot told Florida Watchdog.
Independent candidate Phil Dodds of Alachua will also be on the ballot.
They did not return calls to Florida Watchdog.
“In the current political environment we have a situation where term limits are polling at the highest levels ever and the Congress is polling at record lows,” said Philip Blumel, president of U.S. Term Limits, a single-issue advocacy group based in Fairfax, Va.
His organization has acquired pledges from 184 congressional candidates in the current cycle, promising to either sponsor or co-sponsor legislation to cap the number of terms legislators can serve in federal office.
Stearns is not a signatory.
“We are getting untold amounts of support and enthusiam for the idea of introducing term limits at large,” Blumel told Florida Watchdog.