Tag Archives: Contract With America

Newt’s legacy lives on with ‘Democrat Party’

REUTERS/Mark Avery

I laugh to myself when I see the term “Democrat” used as an adjective, or as part of the proper name of one of the nation’s two major political parties.

It’s a holdover from an earlier era when Republicans took control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. You remember the landmark Contract With America election of 1994, right? Of course you do!

A then-young GOP bomb thrower, Newt Gingrich, led the insurgency that elected Republicans to the House and Senate that year. The GOP slate took down plenty of heavyweights, including House Speaker Tom Foley and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks.

Gingrich essentially coined the usage of the term “Democrat” in a way that sought to cast the other party as a sort of foreign element.

Democrats belong to the “Democratic Party.” Gingrich, who became speaker of the House in 1995, kept referring to the party as the “Democrat Party,” a term that just doesn’t roll off the way the proper term does.

Well, Gingrich left the speakership and the House after the 1998 midterm election and the failed impeachment of President Clinton. He ended up with his own personal baggage — the affair he was having with a staffer while married to his second wife — that took him out; it was one of the more ironic political downfalls in modern U.S. history, given the nature of the charges leveled against Bill Clinton.

However, Newt’s branding of Democrats and their political party lives on. Donald Trump refers to the Democratic Party as the Democrat Party; so do his allies in Congress; so do critics of this blog, by gum, use that term.

It used to annoy me, given my understanding of the motive behind its use: the demonization of a great political party. I’ve gone beyond the point of annoyance. I am now mildly amused.

In defense of a congressman’s non-commitment

Mac Thornberry is now officially a lame-duck member of Congress, given his announcement today that he won’t seek re-election in 2020 to another term representing the 13th Congressional District of Texas.

I have plenty of issues with Thornberry and his tenure as a member of Congress. However, I feel compelled to defend him on a point for which he was pilloried and pounded over many years since taking office.

Mac Thornberry did not, despite claims to the contrary, ever make a personal pledge to limit the number of terms he would serve in the House of Representatives.

He ran in 1994 for the House under the Contract With America banner waved at the front of the Republican ranks by future Speaker Newt Gingrich. The CWA contained among other items a provision to limit House members to three terms. The idea was to serve six years and then bow out, turning the seat over to new faces, with new ideas.

The term limits provision needs a constitutional amendment. The House has not referred an amendment to the states for their ratification. Thornberry, though, has voted in favor of every proposed amendment whenever it has come to a vote of the full of House.

Thornberry never made a personal pledge. Indeed, he has been elected and re-elected 13 times to the 13th District seat. He ascended to Republican leadership over the course of his tenure, being awarded the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee.

I just feel the need to defend Thornberry against false accusations that he reneged on his pledge to limit the amount of time he would serve in Congress. Thornberry knew better than to make a pledge he well might be unable or unwilling to keep, such as former Rep. George Nethercutt of Washington state, who defeated the late Tom Foley in that landmark 1994 CWA election. Nethercutt pledged to limit his terms, then changed his mind … and eventually faced the wrath of his constituents for reneging on his promise.

Mac Thornberry doesn’t adhere to my own world view of how government should work. Indeed, I happen to oppose congressional term limits, believing that elections by themselves serve the purpose of limiting the terms of congressmen and women who do a bad job. That’s not the point here.

He didn’t deserve the pounding he took from within the 13th Congressional District for allegedly taking back a campaign promise … that he never made.

Is it Rep. Thornberry’s turn to announce retirement?

About a half-dozen Republican congressmen and women have announced their intention to leave Congress at the end of their current term.

Some of those GOP lawmakers serve in reliably Republican congressional districts, so their re-election chances really are not in jeopardy.

My thoughts now turn to the man who was my congressman during my many years living in Amarillo, Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Clarendon.

Is it fair to ask whether he’s going to bail at the end of this term?

Hey, I just did. So there you have it.

Thornberry took office the same week I reported for duty at the Amarillo Globe-News. That was in early January 1995. I have kidded him over the years that we kind of “grew up together.” He served on Rep. Larry Combest’s staff before defeating incumbent Rep. Bill Sarpalius in that landmark Contract With America election in 1994 that saw Republicans take control of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

He ascended a couple of terms ago to the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee. Then Democrats took back control of the House in 2018, relegating Thornberry to the role of “ranking member.”

He’s been in the House now for 24 years. I have disagreed frequently with his policy decisions or the votes he has cast. I say that while acknowledging that I like him personally. We had a good professional relationship and I always thought I worked well with his staff.

However, many Republicans in the House are finding it difficult to legislate in this Age of Trump. The president is untrustworthy and I am left to wonder whether his capriciousness wears thin even on those legislators who have supported him and his agenda.

That well could be you, Mac Thornberry.

If Thornberry decides he has had enough, I certainly would understand. Rest assured, too, that Thornberry is one of those politicians who represents a rock-solid Republican congressional district. The 13th Congressional District isn’t going to turn Democratic.

I don’t live in the 13th any longer, but it’s difficult to turn away from a politician with whom I share some history.

Wondering if term limits will return to debate stage

With all the hoo-hah in Washington about the battle of ideologies — conservative vs. liberal — I am wondering about the fate of the debate over term limits.

In 1994, Republicans led by U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, campaigned successfully on the Contract With America platform that included a silly proposition: to limit the terms of members of Congress.

Voters seemed to buy into the notion that we ought to place mandatory limits on the time House members and senators can serve. After all, we limit the president to two elected terms, thanks to the 22nd Amendment. Why not demand the same thing of Congress members?

Well, the idea hasn’t gone anywhere. It requires an amendment to the Constitution. Referring an amendment to the states for their ratification requires a two-thirds vote in both congressional chambers. Term limits proposals haven’t made the grade.

Term limits is primarily a Republican-led initiative. Democrats have dug in against the idea, saying correctly that “we already have term limits. We call them ‘elections.'”

I don’t favor mandatory limits. Indeed, there has been a significant churn of House members and senators already without the mandated limits. The new Congress comprises roughly a membership that includes roughly 25 percent of first-time officeholders. That ain’t bad, man!

Sure, there are deep-rooted incumbents from both parties who make legislating their life’s calling. However, I only can refer back to their constituents: If these lawmakers are doing a poor job, their constituents have it within their power to boot them out; if the constituents are happy with their lawmakers’ performance, they are entitled to keep them on the job.

Of course, we don’t hear much from the nation’s Republican in Chief, the president of the United States, about term limits. He’s too busy “making America great again” and fighting for The Wall. He can’t be bothered with anything as mundane and pedestrian as establishing limits for the amount of time lawmakers can serve.

But where are the GOP fire starters? Have they lost their interest? Or their nerve?

I’m fine with the idea remaining dormant. Just wondering whether it’s died a much-needed death.

Balance of power shifting in Texas delegation

Here’s a thought or two to consider, according to the Texas Tribune.

Texans who have occupied a lot of chairmanships in the U.S. House of Representatives might be set to bail on the House in the wake of the newfound status as the minority party in the lower congressional chamber.

Buried in the Tribune story analyzing that development is a mention of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, who might “make the upcoming term his last.”

That’s according to “many Republican operatives” on Capitol Hill, reports the Tribune.

Read the story here

Thornberry won’t be able to serve as “ranking minority member” of Armed Services; GOP rules mandate that he is term-limited out of that rank. So he’ll become just one of the gang of GOP members serving on the panel.

I have a special “bond” of sorts with Thornberry. He took office in the House in early January 1995, in the same week I reported for duty as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I covered his congressional career regularly until I left the paper in August 2012. He and I developed a good professional relationship.

I rarely agree with his voting record while representing the sprawling 13th Congressional District, although my position at the newspaper required me to write editorials supporting him, given the paper’s longstanding conservative editorial policy.

And, to be fair, Thornberry has been pilloried unfairly over his more than two decades in office because of the term limits issue. He was elected in 1994 as part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” team of GOP insurgents. The CWA called for term limits for members of Congress. Thornberry never pledged to limit his own service to three consecutive terms, but he did vote to approve it when the House considered it.

He took office in 1995. It’s now 2018. Twenty-three years after becoming a freshman member of the House, Mac Thornberry is about to become a former chairman of a key congressional committee. The Republican majority is set to become the GOP minority. That, according to the Texas Tribune, might be enough to send Thornberry packing and returning to the Texas Panhandle in 2021.

Yep, elections do have consequences. We’re about to see one of those consequences occur on the new day that is about to dawn over Capitol Hill.

Entering crucial stage of midterm campaign

I’ve seen this kind of thing happen before. A “wave election” occurs when the least likely incumbent takes a fall, signaling a dramatic change in fortunes for the halls of Congress.

In 1994, I had a ringside seat for one of those events. Longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Jack Brooks of Beaumont represented one of Texas’s last Democratic bastions in the Golden Triangle. He’d been in Congress for more than four decades. His foe that year was a guy who came out of nowhere.

Steve Stockman shocked the political world by beating the late “Sweet Ol’ Brooks” to take his House seat as part of the Contract With America GOP delegation.

I figured at the time if Brooks was to lose, the entire House was going to flip. Sure enough. He did. The House did flip.

Stockman lasted one term before being defeated for re-election in 1996. He was elected again much later, but then lost again after another single term. He’s now facing prison time for fraud.

Fast-forward to the present day. Texas’s U.S. Senate seat is in play. Democrat Beto O’Rourke is trying to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a state that is as Republican as it gets.

The way I figure it today, if somehow O’Rourke manages to pull off what looks like the Upset of the Ages, then the U.S. Senate stands a good chance of flipping from Republican to Democratic control.

It’s a steep hill for the El Paso congressman. He trails the Cruz Missile. But not by much. I see polls that swing from 2 points to 8 points. Cruz should — by standard political measures — be way up. He’s not.

O’Rourke well might lose on Nov. 6. I don’t want him or his allies to claim some sort of “moral victory” by making it close. A loss is a loss. For my money, Cruz needs to lose. He might represent a lot of Texans’ values. He doesn’t represent mine.

If the Cruz Missile gets blown out of the sky, then I am betting that the entire Senate turns over.

Believe me, stranger things have happened — just as it did in the Golden Triangle all those years ago.

‘Democrat’ is a noun, not an adjective

Why do conservatives — chiefly Republicans — continue to use the term “Democrat” in a way that some listeners, such as me, find vaguely insulting?

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders today has used the term “Democrat” as an adjective. She refers to “Democrat members of Congress” who, of course, do things that Republicans dislike.

OK, this can be seen as a silly point. I don’t see it that way.

Republicans began using “Democrat” as an adjective when Republican U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich launched the Contact With American campaign to take control of Congress in 1994.

They ceased referring to members of the other party as being “Democratic” lawmakers. They say “Democrat” because it’s jarring to the ear in ways that are a bit difficult to explain. Plus, they no doubt view their colleagues on the other side as anything but “democratic” in their world view.

Thus, this new use of a long-standing word has taken root. It’s deeper than ever in this divisive period in our political history.

And, oh yes. It still rankles me.

Ex-congressman faces a possible prison term

I would feel a hint of compassion for a former congressman.

Except that I cannot.

Steve Stockman once was a Republican member of the House of Representatives. He served two non-consecutive terms. He now faces a possible decades-long prison sentence if a jury convicts him of mail and wire fraud, money laundering and election law violations.

He allegedly treated himself to lots of campaign cash, not to mention using it to pay for non-political related expenses for staffers and family members.

I don’t know whether he’s guilty of the charges brought against him. That will determined by a Houston-area jury. I do know of Stockman as one of the strangest politicians I’ve ever encountered.

He first won election to the House in 1994 as part of the GOP Contract With America tidal wave. He managed to sweep from Congress a powerful Democratic committee chairman, Jack Brooks of Beaumont, who at the time was the senior member of the Texas congressional delegation. Brooks chaired the House Judiciary Committee when he lost to Stockman — who knew next to nothing about the congressional district he represented for two years.

He most recently invited the angry man of rock ‘n roll music, Ted Nugent, to attend President Obama’s State of the Union speech in 2013; that occurred during Stockman’s second term in the House.

He didn’t distinguish himself at all during his time in the House. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014, but lost to incumbent John Cornyn in the GOP primary.

Stockman was a goofball while he served in the House. As the Texas Tribune reported, Stockman once had a bumper sticker printed that read: “If babies had guns they wouldn’t be aborted.”

Doesn’t this jokester just crack you up? Naw, me neither.

Well,  I’ll await his verdict and I might offer a comment when the jury delivers it.

I would wish him well, if only he had learned how to behave himself while he served in the People’s House.

Let us revisit ‘term limits’

The calls for mandating term limits for members of the U.S. House and Senate have become a bit muted in recent years.

That’s fine with me. I’ve never quite understood the notion of requiring public servants to step aside after a certain set time established through federal statute or constitutional amendment.

The issue keeps recurring every so often. It well might again in the 2018 midterm election that will decide every one of 435 U.S. House seats and one-third of the seats in the 100-member U.S. Senate.

I dug up a 2013 article in USA Today that noted that the 113th Congress was the most “inexperienced” in nearly two decades.

As USA Today noted about that Congress: A confluence of factors — from a trio of wave elections, redistricting, divisive primaries to even death — kick off a 113th Congress populated by junior lawmakers in both chambers that challenges the conventional wisdom that Washington politics is dominated by entrenched incumbents.

Nearly two in five lawmakers in the U.S. House, 39%, have served for less than three years, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Cook Political Report. It’s the least experienced House since at least 1995, when an election wave swept the Republicans into power.

Read the rest of the USA Today article here.

That was just four years ago. The turnover on Capitol Hill has continued at about the same pace.

It brings to mind the Congress that took office in 1995. The election the previous year had swept out dozens of incumbents as the Republican insurgents took control of both legislative houses for the first time in 40 years. One of the upstart freshmen that year was a young self-described “recovering lawyer” named Mac Thornberry, who became the Texas Panhandle’s representative.

Thornberry, a Clarendon Republican, is still in the House. He campaigned as a champion of the Contract With America, the GOP platform that pledged a lot of radical changes. One of them was mandated term limits. Thornberry never imposed any such limit on himself; he has voted in favor of every failed attempt to amend the U.S. Constitution to require term limits for members of Congress.

Frankly, I’ve never faulted him for remaining in Congress all this time … even though I detest his general governing philosophy.

Indeed, any member of Congress who does a lousy job or who doesn’t represent his constituents’ interests will hear from them on Election Day. The voters have the power to impose their own brand of term limits on their elected representatives.

Moreover, is inexperience a good thing when it comes to running the federal government? Hmm. Let me think about that.

Oh, yeah. We’ve got a political novice in the White House at this very moment. The president took office after spending his entire professional life seeking to fatten his financial portfolio. He had zero public service experience before taking office. He is learning a hard lesson that governing isn’t nearly the same as running a business empire.

I believe, therefore, that government experience is vital.

The upcoming midterm election is going to turn on a lot of factors. Term limits might return as a top-drawer political issue. Fine. Let’s have that debate. I likely won’t budge from my long-held belief that we already have term limits. We call them “elections.”

***

Here’s what I wrote five years ago about this very issue:

Term limits? We already have them

 

Call this guy a promise-breaker

That darn Markwayne Mullin. He said he’d serve just three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and then bow out.

So, what does the Oklahoma Republican do? He reneges on his pledge. He’s going to run for a fourth term. Term limits? Who needs ’em, right Rep. Mullin?

Actually, since I don’t believe in mandated term limits, I’m not all that worked up about Mullin’s decision to try once again to be elected to his House seat.

There’s a certain irony, though, attached to this announcement.

One is that Mullin made a foolish pledge in the first place. He says he was so frustrated serving in Congress during the Barack Obama administration that he now wants to serve during the time Donald Trump is president. He thinks he can get more done while Trump is president.

The foolishness of the pledge reminds me of how many of the 1994 Contract With America class of congressmen and women promised to serve a limited number of terms. Some of them kept that pledge, others took it back. I think of former Rep. George Nethercutt of Washington state, who defeated House Speaker Tom Foley in arguably the biggest upset of the 1994 election. Nethercutt vowed to serve three terms and then he pulled it back. He eventually gave up his House seat to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from Washington; his broken promise became an issue and he lost that campaign.

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, from right here in the Texas Panhandle, also was elected that year. He has voted in favor of proposed constitutional amendments limiting lawmakers’ terms. He just never made the pledge for himself. He’s still in office — 22 years later!

Back to Markwayne Mullin. This clown also declared during a town hall meeting earlier this year that the public doesn’t pay his salary. Huh? Yep. He said he pays his own way to serve in Congress.

Umm. No, young man. Not true! The public pays your salary, your office staff’s salary, and all the perks associated with your office. Why, even I have a stake in your salary, even though I am not one of your constituents.

So, my hunch is that the voters of his Oklahoma congressional district just might invoke their version of term limits — by kicking his rear end out of office next year.

“We understand that people are going to be upset. And we get that. We understand it,” Mullin said. “I’m not hiding from that. Because we did say we were going to serve six years.”

There might be a lesson here. Which is that certain campaign promises are not to be treated like something you can just toss out when you get a change of heart.